Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Bush Ready to Initiate 'Regime Change' for the Mullahs

Alec Russell in Washington, Telegraph:
After five years of indecision and internal disputes the Bush administration has started a new, more vigorous phase in trying to undermine the ruling mullahs of Iran. The phrase "regime change" is seen as too loaded to use in public but in effect that is what the administration is hoping to do, according to officials in Washington.

Buoyed up by achieving its initial goal of dragging Teheran before the United Nations Security Council, which is to debate Iran this week, officials are now promoting several measures reminiscent of the American approach towards Moscow in the Cold War. READ MORE

Even as £45 million is pumped into television and radio outlets to broadcast to the Iranian people, listening posts are to be opened in countries close to Iran to make up for America's lack of a diplomatic presence there.

At the same time officials from the state department and the Pentagon, traditionally at loggerheads on Iran, appear to be sounding the same tune. Talk of "overtures" and "outreach to Teheran", the preferred approach of many in the state department in President George W Bush's first term, is over as Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, nudges the diplomats towards a more confrontational approach.

"A lot of things have come together," a senior administration official told The Daily Telegraph yesterday. "It's not yet the end of the line. . . but this is the moment for us to start organising our efforts."

US officials are privately cockahoop that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's new president, has "played into their hands" by threatening to eliminate Israel and by denying the Holocaust.

That played a crucial role in bolstering EU nations, in particular Germany, to abandon misgivings over the Bush administration and work with it to confront Iran.

"So determined are they to get nuclear weapons that they have forfeited a lot of what they had gained. It had been a great success of Iranian foreign policy to split America and Europe but they have thrown that away," said the official.

The official insisted that military action against Iran's nuclear sites remained a last resort. But he suggested that people were wrong to assume that the presence of 130,000 US troops across the border in Iraq meant that action was out of the question. "I wouldn't assume anything. Our president has said everything is still on the table."

Some insiders suggest that a decision will have to be made on military action by the end of this year.

In the meantime there will be a twin-track approach of boosting external and internal opponents of the regime, while trying to stiffen the spines of nations on the Security Council so they do not shrink from imposing penalties on Iran. The plan is for the pressure to intensify bit by bit rather than to bring the issue to a sudden climax.

"We still support diplomatic measures but they ought to include using the UN Security Council and putting the Iranians on the spot if they continue to defy everybody," said the official. Analysts caution that backing the exiled opposition and sending messages to internal opponents of the regime risks backfiring badly and bolstering the mullahs.

But in Washington officials feel that after deliberately staying on the sidelines over a year of diplomacy led by Britain, France and Germany, it is time to take charge of the debate.

Mr Bush has spent more and more time on the issue in recent months, inviting dozens of analysts to the White House for briefings. The state department last week created a special Iran desk.

Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state, told the Washington Post yesterday that more diplomats would be posted to countries around Iran specifically to focus on Teheran.

He said that a new outpost in Dubai would be the "21st Century equivalent" of the station in Riga, the capital of Latvia, in the 1930s when Washington had no embassy in the Soviet Union.