DOHA // The US secretary of state deployed the Obama administration’s harshest critique yet of Tehran yesterday, saying the country was growing into a military dictatorship.
“Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship – that is our view,” Hillary Clinton said during a town hall-style meeting with students at Education City here. She explained that any future sanctions against Iran would target “the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which we believe is in effect supplanting the government of Iran”.
As she visits the region to rally support for increasing pressure on Iran, Mrs Clinton’s rhetoric might mark the start of a tenser phase in the West’s nuclear stand-off with the Islamic Republic.
“It is very understandable that the US is expressing deep frustration,” said Hady Amr, director of Brookings Doha, the Qatar branch of a US think tank. “It’s no longer just about the nuclear programme; it’s also frustration with how the regime has responded to the aftermath of the elections.”
After Iran’s presidential elections in June, a mass uprising calling for votes to be recounted was forcibly silenced with beatings, arrests, detention and, in recent months, executions. The repression continued last week with the smothering of protests during anniversary celebrations of the Iranian Revolution.
That same day last week, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, announced that the country had successfully enriched uranium to a 20-per-cent level needed to fuel a medical research reactor. “The US is trying to signal,” Mr Amr added, “that it’s not really willing to wait a lot longer before it changes its policy.”
Yesterday, however, the director of Iran’s atomic energy organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi, said that the major world powers with which it is at loggerheads over the issue have made a new offer to Iran for a supply of nuclear fuel in return for its shipping out of most of its stocks of low-enriched uranium.
“After the decision by Iran to produce its own uranium enriched to 20 per cent, France, Russia and the United States presented a new proposal which we are in the process of considering,” Mr Salehi said, according to the ILNA news agency.
He gave no details of the new offer. France quickly denied yesterday that such an offer even existed.
Mrs Clinton is spearheading the Obama administration’s full-court press of the region this week, meeting with the leaders of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Along with the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain, Qatar is one of four Gulf countries that accepted US missile-defence systems designed to shoot down short-range Iranian missiles.
“They worry about Iran’s intentions, they worry about whether Iran will be a good neighbour,” Mrs Clinton said. “The question is what can Iran do in order to allay the worries and the fears of its neighbours … and yet I don’t see much progress there.”
Beyond Iran, Mrs Clinton’s discussion topics with the students included US-Islam engagement and building a dialogue with Muslim youth. “We will not agree on everything. I don’t think any family agrees on everything,” Mrs Clinton said. “What I look for are ways that we can celebrate our differences but narrow our disagreements and find common cause.”
Some expressed doubts about the US ability to eradicate stereotypes and move beyond rancour. Mrs Clinton said it would be up to the next generation to bridge the divide. “The decisions that are made here at Education City and in my own country are really about what kind of future we will help provide for those of you who are students today. The education you are receiving here is absolutely critical. The important thing is not what you wear, but what’s in your head and your heart.”
Farah Pandith, the US state department’s first special representative to Muslim communities, who joined Mrs Clinton at Education City, highlighted the potential of today’s young Muslims.
“Every single day since 9/12, on the page of every magazine or newspaper around the world, you see Islam defined in a particular way,” Ms Pandith on Saturday at the US-Islamic World Forum, which concluded here yesterday. “This generation is having to navigate through that and understand what it means to be modern and Muslim – and also is really searching for a way to be connected.”
She urged businesses and foundations to invest in Muslim youth, to listen to their ideas and help them innovate and build partnerships. “New media are playing a gigantic role in what these young people are hearing,” said Ms Pandith, referring to them as the “social network generation”.
“There is really something going on right now with young people, and if we do not harness what is taking place with the youth demographic we will have missed this unbelievably important window.”
Amr Khaled, an Egyptian televangelist and one of the most influential Muslim voices, also worried about Muslim youth. He called on the United States to launch a “Project for Love”, and invest US$10 billion (Dh36.7bn) over five years on education, poverty and health in the Muslim world.
“America is fighting already wars against terror and injustice, why not a third?” Mr Khaled said. “Millions of Muslim youth will stretch out their hands to you.”
At a Sunday morning panel, the Malaysian opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, urged Barack Obama to engage smartly. “Yes, President Obama, engage with hope, but you must engage the aspirations of the whole people,” he said, pointing the inclusion of leaders, non-governmental organisations, intellectuals, Islamists and secularists. “Because if you miss some of them, you will have a continuation of this problem.”
an edited version of this story appeared on page 1A of the 16 Feb edition of The National, www.thenational.ae