Page last updated at 16:00 GMT, Monday, 15 February 2010

Clinton warns Iran 'becoming a military dictatorship'

Hillary Clinton: "Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship"

Iran is "becoming a military dictatorship", US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said.

She was speaking to students at a Qatar university during a tour of the region.

She said Iran's elite army corps, the Revolutionary Guard, had gained so much power they had effectively supplanted the government.

Earlier, aides revealed Mrs Clinton would press Saudi Arabia to help persuade China to support a tougher stand against Iran's nuclear ambitions.

In response, Iran rejected criticism from the West about its human rights record at a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council.


Asked if the US was planning to attack Iran, Mrs Clinton said Washington wanted to bring the world community together to agree on sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard.

A member of the Revolutionary Guard stands by a mural depicting the 1979 Iranian Revolution
Founded 1979
Numbers about 125,000 troops
Operates independently of the regular army
Controls the Basij militia, Iran's "moral police"
Commercial arm involved in construction, oil exports, petrol imports, defence and transport contracts
The Qods Force special unit is thought to back armed groups in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon
Source: Reuters

"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," Mrs Clinton said.

She also said the US would "not stand idly by" and watch Iran acquire a nuclear weapon.

On Monday a senior Iranian official, speaking in Geneva to a UN Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) review of Iran, rejected the accusations made against Tehran.

"Iran is becoming one of the predominant democratic states in the region," Iranian High Council for Human Rights secretary general Mohammad Javad Larijani said.

But US and European delegates told the UNHCR Iran had suppressed street protests after disputed elections in June.

On Thursday, the US announced it was extending already-existing sanctions it imposed against a construction company run by the Revolutionary Guard and the general who is the company's chief officer.

The profits made by the company from infrastructure projects were being funnelled back into Iran's missile and nuclear programmes, the US Treasury said.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps was set up in 1979, following the Shah's deposal, to protect the ruling system and the supreme leader from attacks from both outside and within Iran.

It has extended its interests into Iran's economy, controlling a number of enterprises and industries.

"Mrs Clinton is targeting the Revolutionary Guards with her rhetoric because she wants to target them with sanctions," the BBC's world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds says.

"Discussions about further measures against Iran are currently going on among security council members and the aim is to try to put a squeeze on the Revolutionary Guards as opposed to hitting at ordinary people."

Chinese influence

Earlier, Mrs Clinton's aides revealed she will ask the Saudis to reassure China that they will meet any shortfall in its oil needs if further UN sanctions are imposed, aides say.

She will meet King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal during her first visit to the kingdom.

On Sunday, she urged Iran to reconsider its "dangerous policy decisions".

Mrs Clinton told a conference in Qatar it was leaving the international community little choice but to impose further sanctions.

The US and its allies fear Iran is attempting to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful.

'Under pressure'

A senior state department official said on Saturday that the US wanted Saudi Arabia, which has growing trade relations with China, to persuade Beijing to abandon opposition to a fourth round of UN Security Council sanctions.

We don't want to be engaging while they are building their bomb
Hillary Clinton
US Secretary of State

"We would expect them [the Saudis] to use these visits, to use their relationships in ways that can help increase the pressure that Iran would feel," Jeffrey Feltman, the acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, told reporters.

China, which wields a veto on the Security Council as a permanent member, is against imposing more sanctions.

The BBC's Kim Ghattas, who is travelling with Mrs Clinton, says Beijing fears a major loss of revenue from investments in Iran, and disruption of oil supplies from a country providing it with 400,000 barrels a day.

The secretary of state is expected to press the Saudis to reassure the Chinese that the kingdom can offset any disruption.

Mrs Clinton recently warned China that it would be "under a lot of pressure to recognise the destabilising impact that a nuclear-armed Iran would have in the Gulf, from which they receive a significant percentage of their oil".

On Sunday, US Vice-President Joe Biden said he was confident Beijing would change its approach and back new sanctions.

Diplomatic drive

In a wide-ranging speech at the US-Islamic World forum in Doha, Mrs Clinton appealed to Muslim leaders to help in halting Iran's nuclear programme, saying its policies suggested it was developing nuclear weapons.

"The evidence is accumulating that that's exactly what they are trying to do," she said. "I would like to figure out a way to handle it in as peaceful an approach possible, and I certainly welcome any meaningful engagement, but... we don't want to be engaging while they are building their bomb."

Our correspondent says Mrs Clinton's speech also seemed to appeal to Muslims and Arabs not to give up on the Obama administration.

She acknowledged there had been setbacks in re-launching peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and in closing the military detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, but insisted Washington was committed to achieving both.

Mrs Clinton's two deputies will head to the region in the coming days, travelling to Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

And on Monday, William Burns, the under-secretary for political affairs, will travel to Lebanon and Syria.

Our correspondent says Washington is still hoping it can loosen the links between Damascus and Tehran, while Lebanon currently holds a seat on the Security Council.

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