The United States believes Iran may be heading toward a military dictatorship and that its Revolutionary Guard Corps is supplanting its government, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday.
Speaking in a televised session with students in Qatar, Clinton denied the United States planned to attack Iran and said Washington wanted dialogue with Tehran but could not stand idly by while Iran pursued a suspected nuclear weapons program.
Asked if Washington planned to attack Iran, she replied: No, we are planning to try to bring the world community together in applying pressure to Iran through sanctions adopted by the United Nations that will be particularly aimed at those enterprises controlled by the Revolutionary Guard, which we believe is, in effect, supplanting the government of Iran.
That is how we see it. We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the parliament, is being supplanted and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. That is our view.
Her remarks were the most open assessment by a senior U.S. official about what they regard as the growing influence of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, an elite force whose influence has grown in recent years through a network of banks, shipping firms and other companies under its control.
The IRGC, set up after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution to protect the ruling system against internal and external threats, has about 125,000 fighters with army, navy and air units. It operates separately from the 350,000-strong regular army and answers to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic Republic's top authority.
The West, and many Arab states, believe Iran is using its civil nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Iran has said that the program is simply to generate power so it can export more of its valuable oil and gas.
Clinton has acknowledged that U.S. President Barack Obama's approach to Iran had not borne fruit, blaming Iran for refusing to engage and suggesting that a fourth U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution was the only option.
What we are trying to do is to send a message to Iran, a very clear message, that we still would be open to engagement, we still believe that there is a different path for Iran to take, she said.
But we want the world united in sending an unequivocal message to Iran that we will not stand idly by while you pursue a nuclear program that can be used to threaten your neighbors and even beyond, she added.
ENLIST MORE PRESSURE
While Arab states fear the possibility of Iran getting the bomb, and warn that it could spark a regional arms race, they are also uneasy about the possibility that military action by Israel against Iran could profoundly destabilize the region.
We're still hoping that Iran will decide to forego any ... ambitions for a nuclear weapon, Clinton said. But we cannot just keep hoping for that. We have to work to take action to try to convince the Iranian government not to pursue nuclear weapons, Clinton said.
Clinton is also visiting Saudi Arabia where she will seek to enlist more diplomatic pressure on Iran.
U.S. officials hinted that one way Saudi Arabia could help diplomatically would be to offer China guarantees it would meet Chinese oil requirements, a step that might ease Beijing's reluctance to impose further sanctions on Iran.
China, which wields a veto on the Security Council, has lucrative commercial relationships with Iran and, along with Russia, has worked to dilute previous sanctions resolutions.
Other U.S. officials said they believed Saudi Arabia, which has recently increased its diplomatic and commercial contacts with China, had made some gestures toward Beijing on fuel assurances but gave no details.
(Editing by Samia Nakhoul)