Global Policy Forum

Rice Seeks $75 Million

Daily Star-Lebanon
February 16, 2006

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced an administration request for $75 million to try to spur democracy in its adversary Iran, expanding a program skeptics say can have little effect in the Islamic Republic. Addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rice also insisted that no U.S. assistance would be provided to a Hamas-led Palestinian government.

Accusing Iran of "political subversion," terrorism and support for Islamic radicals, Rice said: "The Iranian regime is a strategic challenge to the U.S., to the world, and a destabilizing influence in the Middle East." "The United States will actively confront the aggressive policies of the Iranian regime," she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "At the same time, we will work to support the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom and democracy in their country," she added.

Rice, who said the funds would be used to broadcast U.S. radio and television programs into Iran and help pay for Iranians to study in America, requested the money in a supplemental budget request for the 2006 fiscal year. Congress has already approved $10 million for such programs for the year, which begins on October 1.

Rice also told the Senate panel she would have talks in the Gulf next week, with Iran a major topic. She did not name the countries but a State Department official later said she would visit Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Rice and other U.S. officials made it clear the push was part of an overall campaign to increase pressure on Iran.

"The international community is going to have to act and act decisively if Iran is to know there is a consequence for its open defiance of the international community, so we are working on precisely that," she said. However, she declined to detail what punishment the United States is pursuing against Iran, although she did acknowledge that the United States has analyzed the impact of oil sanctions on Iran as part of a broad review of all available tools and has a "menu of options" available. "You will see us trying to walk a fine line in actions we take," Rice said.

The first testimony to Congress in months exposed Rice to a tough grilling from some members of her own party, with Republican senators criticizing the Bush administration over its policies in Iraq, Iran and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. "I don't see, Madame Secretary, how things are getting better. I think things are getting worse. I think they're getting worse in Iraq. I think they're getting worse in Iran," Senator Chuck Hagel told Rice.

Rice also had a tense exchange with moderate Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee over the pace of progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace and the implications of the Hamas victory in Palestinian legislative elections last month. "We will continue to insist that the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism and work for lasting peace," Rice said.

She said the Bush administration would not turn its back on such humanitarian programs in the territories as immunizing children against disease. "But no money will go to that government," Rice said under questioning by Senator George Allen. "I don't want a penny of taxpayer money going to Hamas," Allen told Rice. "Neither do I," she replied.

This year, the U.S. is providing $150 million in direct aid for Palestinian development and other needs. An additional $84 million in U.S. money is distributed through the UN. At one point, Rice and Sen. Barbara Boxer interrupted one another as they argued about U.S. policy in the Middle East, where the Democrat accused the Bush administration of having a "tin ear" to Arab views.

Boxer, who was one of Rice's most persistent critics during a contentious confirmation process last year, also recalled Rice's warning before the 2003 Iraq invasion that the world could not afford to let the "smoking gun" of Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction become a "mushroom cloud."

"That was a farce and the truth is coming out," Boxer said.

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