US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday that Iran is becoming a military dictatorship, a new US accusation in the midst of rising tensions with Iran over its nuclear ambitions and crackdown on anti-government protesters.
Speaking to Arab students at Carnegie Mellon's Doha campus, Clinton said Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps appears to have gained so much power that it was effectively supplanting the government.
"Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship," she said. "That is our view."
Clinton was in Doha this week to attend the three-day US-Islamic World Forum, organized by the Qatari government and the US-based Saban Center for Middle East Policy of the Brookings Institution. The forum brought together American and Muslim-world leaders and civil society to discuss the relationship between some 300 million Americans and the world's 1.5 billion Muslims.
In a video message to the forum, US President Barack Obama announced the appointment of White House counsel Rashad Hussain as US special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Among the issues discussed at the Doha gathering were social problems afflicting Muslim societies, including illiteracy and the status of women. Also discussed was the concern shared by many Arab countries over the nuclear program of neighboring Iran, a concern that echoes American, European and Israeli fears that Iran seeks a nuclear weapon in order to threaten its neighbors and attain regional hegemony.
But Arab worries over Iran are not as unified or coherent as in the West, according to Kenneth Pollack, director of the Saban Center and a former senior CIA and National Security Council analyst on Arab affairs.
"The views in the Arab world range from wanting Iran obliterated to wanting nothing at all to happen," he said in a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post from Doha Monday. Arab states viewed the Iranian nuclear drive and the belligerency of Iran's current leaders with fear, he said, "but there is also quite a bit of concern about the use of American military might" to curtail Iranian ambitions.
"In general, they don't know what side they're on. They'd really prefer not to make that choice, and [desperately hope] that the US and its allies will find some other way to head off an Iranian nuclear weapon," he said.
Asked at her Carnegie Mellon appearance if the US is planning a military attack on Iran, Clinton said "no."
The US is focused on gaining international support for sanctions "that will be particularly aimed at those enterprises controlled by the Revolutionary Guard, which we believe is in effect supplanting the government of Iran," she said.
Last week the US Treasury Department announced that it was freezing the assets in US jurisdictions of a Revolutionary Guard general and four subsidiaries of a previously penalized construction company he runs because of their alleged involvement in producing and spreading weapons of mass destruction.
The Revolutionary Guard has long been a pillar of Iran's regime as a force separate from the ordinary armed forces. The Guard now has a hand in every critical area, including missile development, oil resources, dam building, road construction, telecommunications and nuclear technology.
It also has absorbed the paramilitary Basij as a full-fledged part of its command structure - giving the militia greater funding and a stronger presence in Iran's internal politics.
Meanwhile, a semi-official news agency quoted the head of Iran's nuclear program as saying the country received a new proposal last week from the United States, Russia and France.
Iran said that it was studying the joint proposal, purportedly made after the country announced last week it had begun enriching uranium to a higher level than previously acknowledged. The ILNA news agency quoted Ali Akbar Salehi as saying various countries have also offered Iran proposals on a nuclear fuel swap, adding that Iran is reviewing all the proposals. He did not provide any more details.
The Obama administration is trying to "send a message to Iran - a very clear message" that the US is still open to engagement "but that we will not stand idly by while you pursue a nuclear program that can be used to threaten your neighbors and even beyond," Clinton said.
Later, as she boarded her plane for the next stop on her Middle East trip, Clinton said of the Iranian leadership: "The civilian leadership is either preoccupied with its internal political situation or is ceding ground to the Revolutionary Guard."
She told reporters traveling with her that it appears the Revolutionary Guard is in charge of Iran's controversial nuclear program and the country changing course "depends on whether the clerical and political leadership begin to reassert themselves."
She added: "I'm not predicting what will happen but I think the trend with this greater and greater military lock on leadership decisions should be disturbing to Iranians as well as those of us on the outside."
Clinton said the Iran that could emerge is "a far cry from the Islamic Republic that had elections and different points of view within the leadership circle. That is part of the reason that we are so concerned with what we are seeing going on there."
In her Doha appearance, Clinton also said she foresees a possible breakthrough soon in stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
"I'm hopeful that this year will see the commencement of serious negotiations that will cover every issue that is outstanding," she said, adding that "everyone is anticipating" progress after more than a year of impasse between the negotiating parties.
Clinton spoke in an interview with the Al-Jazeera TV network before a live audience of mostly Arab students at the Carnegie Mellon campus.
In remarks in the Qatari capital on Sunday, Clinton said she and the president are disappointed that the administration's efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks had failed thus far.
Reflecting the extent of concern in the Persian Gulf region about a US
confrontation with Iran, another member of the audience asked Clinton
about the outlook for improving relations with Teheran. Clinton
reiterated the Obama administration's view that Iran has violated its
international obligation to use nuclear technology only for peaceful
purposes. And she regretted that Iran has not accepted US offers of
Later Monday, Clinton flew to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for a meeting with
King Abdullah and a session with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud