Iran General NewsRice asks for $75M for democracy in Iran

Rice asks for $75M for democracy in Iran

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AP: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked Congress on Wednesday for $75 million this year to build democracy in Iran, saying the U.S. must support Iranians who are seeking freedoms under what she called a radical regime. Associated Press

By ANNE GEARAN

AP Diplomatic Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked Congress on Wednesday for $75 million this year to build democracy in Iran, saying the U.S. must support Iranians who are seeking freedoms under what she called a radical regime.

The money, to be included in an emergency 2006 budget request the White House is expected to send to Congress as early as this week, will be used for radio and satellite television broadcasting and for programs to help Iranians study abroad.

“The United States wishes to reach out to the Iranian people and support their desire to realize their own freedom and to secure their own democratic and human rights. The Iranian people should know that the United States fully supports their aspirations for a freer, better future,” Rice testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Over the past two years, Rice said, the State Department has invested more than $4 million in projects aimed at empowering Iranian citizens in their call for political and economic freedoms and in the current budget year will invest at least $10 million in such efforts. The $75 million is in addition to that money, which Congress already has approved.

Rice said the United States is working with non-governmental organizations to develop a support network for political dissidents and human rights activists while paying for programs that train labor activists and help protect them from the “radical regime” in Tehran.

The United States has not had diplomatic ties with Iran since the 1979 storming of the U.S. Embassy in Iran and maintains broad economic sanctions against the Islamic regime. She said the State Department is working with the Treasury Department to ensure barriers are open that allows the United States to pay for scholarships and fellowships for Iranians.

“Through its aggressive and confrontational behavior, Iran is increasingly isolating itself from the international community,” Rice said.

An Iranian official said Tuesday that his country has resumed small-scale enrichment of uranium, putting that nation on a path that others fear could be a step toward producing fuel for an atomic bomb. The U.S. and many European countries are maneuvering to bring Iran before the U.N. Security Council in hopes of pressuring Tehran into backing away from its nuclear program.

“They have now crossed a point where they are in open defiance of the international community,” Rice said.

She declined to detail what sanctions the United States is pursuing, although she did acknowledge that the United States has analyzed the impact of oil sanctions on Iran.

Whatever the result, Rice said, the international community must be united in a punishment that sends a strong message to the Iranian regime without hurting the Iranian people. “You will see us trying to walk a fine line in actions we take,” Rice said.

In addition to Iran, senators were expected to pepper Rice with questions on a host of international issues, many of which have arisen since she last appeared before Congress in October. Those include an impending takeover of the Palestinian government by Hamas, an Islamic group that won a decisive majority 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.

On Tuesday, United States and Israeli officials denied reports that they were plotting ways to topple the militant group’s incoming government unless it renounces its violent ideology and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.

Also on the agenda during the hearing was the political and economic situation in Iraq.

In Iraq, the fledgling democracy’s leading Shiite bloc has chosen Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to serve another term and lead the country’s new government. The U.S. wants al-Jaafari to form a national unity government with Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds, hoping that will rein in the violence that has raged since Saddam Hussein’s fall in 2003.

Although lawmakers acknowledge progress politically in Iraq, some express frustration over what they say is the administration’s lack of adequate action on repairing Iraq’s oil production infrastructure and fully restoring its water and electrical power.

Rice was to appear before the committee on Tuesday, but the session was postponed a day because of Senate floor votes.

Associated Press Writer Liz Sidoti in Washington contributed to this story from Washington

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