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Clinton Urges Iranians to 'Take Back Authority' from Revolutionary Guards

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday she hopes Iran's mainstream leaders can recapture authority from the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that she said threatens to take the country toward a military dictatorship. Clinton is in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on the last leg of Gulf trip focusing on Iran's nuclear program.

Clinton caused a political stir with remarks on Monday in Qatar that Iran's Revolutionary Guards are supplanting Iran's traditional leadership and steering the country toward dictatorship.

In subsequent comments with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, Clinton was equally blunt, saying that although the government in Tehran has been at least partially democratic and popular, it has taken a dramatic turn with the repression that followed the country's disputed elections last June.

"What we see today is very dramatic and troubling," said Hillary Clinton. "And increasingly, more aspects of Iranian society - the security apparatus, the economy - are being controlled not by the clerical leadership, not by the political leadership, but by the Revolutionary Guard. I share the [Saudi] foreign minister's hope that this is not a permanent change, but that instead the religious and political leaders act to take back the authority they should be exercising on behalf of the people."

Clinton discussed Iran in talks in Doha with Qatari officials and with visiting Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan. She conferred with Saudi leaders, including a marathon six-hour luncheon and business meeting with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah at his winter campsite outside Riyadh.

The secretary is pressing Persian Gulf allies to support a package of new United Nations sanctions largely aimed at interests of the Republican Guard. U.S. officials say the group has gained influence over Iran's nuclear policy as it helped quell unrest by those protesting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election.

Saudi Foreign Minister al-Faisal said it is clear there has been a political "clampdown" in Iran, but that it is unclear whether it will be a permanent fixture of Iranian politics.

He said that if it is and Iran becomes more extremist, it means that, in his words, "we are in for a tough time in the region."

The foreign minister said new sanctions against Iran might work, but that they are a long-term solution. He said that Iran's Gulf neighbors hope for a more immediate resolution, one negotiated between Iran and major world powers.

He said Saudi Arabia supports a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction with standards that apply to all states - including Israel, which is presumed to possess a large arsenal of nuclear arms.