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Published: Monday, 2/27/2006

Can't buy U.S. love

In the context of an international effort to obtain the cooperation of Iran in keeping its nuclear program on an energy track, as opposed to a weapons track, the Bush Administration wants Congress to ante up $85 million, in effect, to pursue regime change in Tehran.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described a proposed program, up from only $3.5 million last year, that would provide major financing to Iranian "political dissidents, labor union leaders, and human rights activists" and to other nongovernmental organizations outside Iran that oppose the current Iranian government. These efforts would in theory open Iran to democracy and reform.

In fact, this effort will at best simply be ineffective, a lavish, wasteful gift to the Iranian equivalent of Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi's supporters in the run-up to that war. Mr. Chalabi and his associates were one major source of the phony intelligence that the administration then peddled to Congress and the American public as part of the justification for the 2003 invasion.

Some of the $85 million is also likely to end up in the hands of exiled supporters of the deceased Shah, driven out of power by the current rulers of Iran in 1979. This group of monarchists has virtually no support in Iran itself 27 years later.

Some of the $85 million will also go into broadcasts to Iran, some by the Voice of America, some by private satellite radio and television stations based on the U.S. West Coast. There was a time when such broadcasts were effective in the sense that they were listened to as sources of otherwise unavailable information. This is no longer the case in the day of the Internet.

What Ms. Rice's request is more likely to do is persuade the government of Iran once and for all that it must have nuclear weapons to protect itself, and as soon as possible, because the United States is gunning for it, seeking to overthrow it. The United States removal of the Mossadegh government in Iran in 1953 is part of the living memory of some of the country's leaders, particularly the older ayatollahs.

What the United States should be doing instead is taking actions to build confidence in America on the part of Iran, particularly with a new Iraqi government that is coming increasingly under its influence.

The best fate for Ms. Rice's $85 million request is for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to reject it.

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