Reporting from Beirut — In a ratcheting up of official U.S. rhetoric against Iran, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton flatly accused Tehran on Monday of trying to build nuclear bombs and painted the Islamic Republic as an imminent military dictatorship increasingly ruled by the elite Revolutionary Guard.
But Clinton also denied the U.S. was planning to launch a war against Iran, saying Washington was instead trying to rally nations to economically pressure Tehran into curbing sensitive aspects of its nuclear program.
"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," she said during a visit with students at Carnegie Mellon's campus in Qatar, according to news agencies.
"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," she said.
The Revolutionary Guard is an elite, ideologically motivated branch of the Iranian military created after Islamic clerics toppled the U.S.-backed monarch and took control of Iran during a 1979 revolution. Its members have risen to positions of political and economic power within the Islamic Republic in recent years.
Clinton was in the Qatari capital of Doha, just across the Persian Gulf from Iran's southern coast, for a conference on relations between the U.S. and the Islamic world. The U.S. and its allies oppose Iran's nuclear ambitions, which Tehran insists are meant solely for civilian purposes.
After negotiations stalled between the West and Tehran over a possible deal to convert some of Iran's sensitive material into nuclear fuel plates for a medical reactor, Iranians upped the ante last week, announcing plans to produce their own purer nuclear fuel in a step that would edge them closer to weapons-grade uranium.
But Ali-Akbar Salehi, chief of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said Monday that the Iranians were now considering an apparently fresh proposal backed by the U.S., Russia, China and France to get them to stop the process. He did not divulge details.
Iran's current stockpile of fuel, enriched at 3.5%, is suitable for powering electrical plants. Nuclear weapons require enrichment rates of 60% or higher.
"Following Iran's decision to produce 20% enriched uranium, we received a proposal from Russia, France and China. We are currently studying this proposal and other proposals from various countries," he said according to Tehran's semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency. "Their proposal will only end in the halt of uranium enrichment in Iran if they accept all our conditions for the exchange of enriched uranium."
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in 2007 that Iran had ended steps toward creating a nuclear bomb by late 2003. But an upcoming U.S. National Intelligence Estimate might alter that assessment. Clinton cited no new intelligence that Iran was aiming to build a nuclear bomb, but insisted that "the evidence is accumulating that that's exactly what they are trying to do."
Her comments were broadcast on television from Doha, which maintains robust diplomatic and economic ties to the Islamic Republic.
"Iran has consistently failed to live up to its responsibilities," she said. "It has refused to demonstrate to the international community that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful."
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told Qatar's Al Jazeera television that Iran's actions fed Washington's suspicions.
"Given the current trajectory that Iran is on -- the fact that it still has centrifuges spinning, and the fact that it is unwilling to constructively engage the international community -- we have to assume that Iran is pursuing a nuclear program," he told Al Jazeera.
After Tehran announced it was upping its enrichment levels, U.S. officials and Western experts last week asserted that Iran might be bluffing and lacked the technical prowess to efficiently produce the higher-grade uranium. A new International Atomic Energy Agency report detailing the latest technical and regulatory aspects of Iran's nuclear program is due out this week.
Salehi said it was within Iran's rights and know-how to produce higher-grade uranium. "We are authorized to enrich uranium up to 100% because we are a member of the IAEA. However, we respect our obligations. Those who cannot believe our ability to produce nuclear fuel will see its proof in the IAEA reports later."