Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Bush ‘calling for Iran regime change’

Guy Dinmore, Financial Times:
A direct appeal by President George W. Bush to the Iranian people to “win your own freedom” was a barely disguised call for regime change in Iran, raising the question of whether the US will turn to covert action to support internal opposition, analysts said on Wednesday.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Mr Bush saved his toughest remarks for Iran, calling it “a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people”.

Let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom.”

Mr Bush condemned Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons and support for terrorist groups in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon.

The State Department provided audio in Farsi of the speech that was beamed by exiled networks from the US into Iran.
Voice of America radio also broadcast simultaneous translation. READ MORE

Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment think-tank called Mr Bush’s rhetoric a “barely hidden call for regime change, fairly dramatic”.

In an interview with Reuters news agency on Wednesday, Mr Bush denied he was calling for an overthrow in Tehran.

What I am saying is that . . . the United States is very aware of their [the Iranian people’s] conditions, and we recognise that liberty is universal and that we hope some day they will be in a position to have a democracy based upon Iranian customs and Iranian traditions,” the president was quoted as saying.

Danielle Pletka, senior analyst with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, expects the president to give a more detailed Iran policy speech later. She hopes there will be overt support for the democratic opposition as well as “a robust covert element. . . but that does not mean cloak and dagger”.

Last year, the State Department awarded $3m to non-governmental organisations working on Iran but did not reveal their identities. A spokeswoman said the money was “classified” but not “covert”.

Similar funding of $6.5m is available for Iran and Syria this year, although bills proposed in Congress would raise that sum significantly.

Mr Nathan said the US and Europe had an accomplished “democracy industry” that was able to help countries in transition, but the US had virtually excluded the possibility of overt assistance in Iran by openly pursuing a policy that amounted to regime change.

A government adviser, who asked not to be named, said the Bush administration was closing its policy options with Iran, partly due to what he called an intense hatred of its new president, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad. He believed covert action was inevitable – and said it would probably be disastrous.