Some members of the U.S. Congress and Middle East analysts are urging the Bush administration to capitalize on its success in the war against Iraq and support dissidents opposed to the hard-line Muslim clerics in Iran. U.S. officials accuse Iran of opposing efforts to bring democracy to Iraq, and trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction to tip the balance of power in the Middle East. U.S. officials accuse Iran of working hard to obtain nuclear weapons.
On a recent trip to the country, international inspectors were shown sophisticated machinery to enrich uranium, sparking concern that Tehran is making progress in its efforts to develop such weapons.
Iran recently announced it has begun mining uranium and plans to build plants to process the ore into fuel.
While Iran says it is obtaining nuclear technology to generate electricity, U.S. officials argue the country has vast oil and gas reserves and does not need nuclear energy. U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee who has taken an active role in developing U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East, said Iran's denial that it has an active nuclear weapons program can not be believed.
"We must not allow ourselves the luxury of believing that Iran will keep any commitments it makes," said Senator Brownback. "After all, Iran today is a country which extensively abuses its own people, a country which sponsors terrorism upon innocent civilians, and it is a country that is actively undermining all progress towards democracy in the Middle East."
Israeli officials have long expressed concern over Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Uri Lubrani, former head of Israel's mission to Tehran for seven years before the 1979 Islamic revolution, said religious leaders in Iran are threatening to use nuclear weapons to annihilate the Jewish state.
"We are deeply, deeply concerned," he said. "I know this is not only our concern. This should be the concern of all of the free world because we are not the only victims. Not only we will be the victims of a nuclear capability of that particular regime in Tehran."
Concerns have also been expressed about reports that Iran is trying to block the creation of a new democracy in neighboring Iraq by trying to influence clerics in the country's Shi'ite majority.
"Well for the present government of Iran the collapse of the regime in Iraq represents great danger," explained Bernard Lewis, a professor of Middle East studies at Princeton University. "You know a lot of people have expressed the fear that democracy won't work in Iraq. The Iranian fear is a much greater one, that it will work. A successful democracy in Iraq would be a mortal threat to the present clerics in Iran."
Professor Lewis believes Iran will attempt to use terrorist attacks to drive U.S. soldiers and officials out of Iraq before a democracy can be established.
"I would regard this as highly probable," said Professor Lewis. "This is the method they used in Syria and Lebanon against Israel. Here it would be next door, much easier to do and much more urgent from their point of view.
"I think that is a very likely development," he continued. "It is a porous frontier between Iraq and Iran. There are these links through the holy places in Najaf and Karbala and between the families of religious leaders on both sides, a long-standing connection which could be either a danger to them or a weapon used by them."
Analysts say while the current government in Iran has promised reforms, they are not coming fast enough for many of the country's young people.
Senator Brownback says the United States should actively support student groups and other dissidents opposed to the hard-line clerics behind Iran's Islamic Republic.
"We are at a critical turning point in our relationship with Iran," he emphasized. "If we falter now by giving any type of comfort or legitimacy to the existing regime against the will of Iran's own people, we will be making a mistake we will pay for for years to come."
While officials and analysts have stopped short of recommending military action against Iran, they do argue that Washington should step up the pressure on the Iranian government to stop meddling in Iraq and stop trying to obtain nuclear weapons.
They say once a democratic government is established in Baghdad, it will be very difficult for Iranian clerics to maintain their strong grip on power.