* I wonder if the Lincoln Group will be put in charge? http://www.scam.com/showthread.php?t=9884

Bush seeks funds to weaken Iran from within

The Bush administration on Wednesday announced a significant toughening of its policy towards Iran, asking Congress for an extra $75m this year to support opponents of the Islamic regime and fund the first 24-hour official US television station broadcasting in Farsi.

"The United States will actively confront the policies of this Iranian regime, and at the same time we are going to work to support the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom in their own country," Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, told the Senate foreign relations committee hearing.

Ms Rice, who will travel to the Gulf region next week to discuss Iran with its Arab neighbours, did not specifically use the words "regime change". But it was clear from her testimony that the US would pursue a dual policy of isolating Iran on the international front, including sanctions and interdictions of prohibited shipments, while seeking to weaken the clerical regime from within.

The "new effort", as Ms Rice described it, will be backed by $10m (€8.4m, £5.75m) already budgeted this year and a supplemental request of $75m. The State Department said money will go towards Iranian reformers, political dissidents, human rights organisations, non-governmental organisations, political organisations and labour unions. The tabular content relating to this article is not available to view. Apologies in advance for the inconvenience caused.

* The bulk of the spending, $50m, is proposed for the establishment of a 24-hour, US-run, Farsi-language television station. The US currently broadcasts only one hour a day of Farsi television. An undisclosed sum will also go to "independent" Farsi radio and television stations.

Iranians and analysts advising the Bush administration say the effort raises many questions, not least because the White House appeared to have reached the conclusion that the Islamic regime was relatively stable. They said the US realised that significant opposition to Tehran was unlikely to be generated from exiles, but intended to fish around for ways to destabilise the Islamic regime from within.

Having embraced a policy that amounts to regime change, the administration is also cutting off legitimate avenues of openly supporting civic organisations, as it does elsewhere in the Middle East.

Experts said Ms Rice's policy statement was reminiscent of the Iraq Liberation Act signed by President Bill Clinton in 1998 – it gave funding to Iraqi opposition groups, the main beneficiary being Ahmad Chalabi, whose party failed to win a single seat in the Iraqi elections.

Jon Alterman, analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the strategy also risked undermining diplomatic efforts to build pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme.

Ms Rice accused Iran of pursuing "destabilising policies" of supporting terrorism and "violent extremism" in the Middle East. Iran's nuclear programme had "now crossed a point where they are in open defiance of the international community", she said.

But she conceded there were differences on how and when sanctions could be imposed on Iran in response to its non-compliance with its nuclear safeguards commitments, although it had been a "major breakthrough" to get Russia and China to agree to refer Iran to the UN Security Council.