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Experts Say Tough US Rhetoric Against Iran Not Enough

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill heard from experts this week, who say the increasingly strident rhetoric from the White House on Iran's nuclear ambitions could prove counterproductive.

Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. But the White House says the country's support of terrorists and anti-Israel statements by its leaders show otherwise. Some Middle East experts say the tough talk needs to be balanced by diplomatic tact if the U.S. hopes to change hearts and minds in Iran. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says all options are on the table. And President Bush has hinted Iran's continued defiance could lead to military conflict. "If you're interested in avoiding World War III," Bush said.

But some Democrats accuse the Bush administration of adding more fuel to an already dangerous fire. The chairman of a House subcommittee, looking at ways to deal with Iran, says the tough talk reminds him of the build-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

New York Congressman Brian Higgins calls it "irresponsible". "It's troubling because it reeks of irresponsibility. It's war mongering and it creates a potentially further destabilizing influence in a region that is very important to our strategic interests."

Some Republicans say the tough talk is necessary. But Republican Congressman Christopher Shays says economic sanctions against Iran's military and its banking institutions need to be tempered by open dialogue. "It is time for us to start talking with Iran, diplomat to diplomat, politician to politician, and person to person."

The White House says it has exhausted diplomatic efforts and last week imposed sweeping economic sanctions -- targeting Iran's banking institutions and the country's elite military branch. The sanctions are meant to hamper Iran's ability to conduct business internationally and reduce the influence of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, which U.S. officials accuse of providing weapons to Iraqi militants.

But Karim Sadjapour, a Middle East expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says U.S. actions could backfire unless the U.S. can convince Iranians that abandoning its nuclear program will bring peace and stability to the region. "Increasingly, Iranians look next door and they say if the choice is between what we see in Iraq -- democracy and carnage -- and what we have now, which is authoritarianism and security, we will choose the latter."

But some insist the U.S. saber-rattling is necessary to convince the rest of the world of the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran. Kenneth Katzman is a specialist in Middle East affairs for the Congressional Research Service. "The talk of military action has in some sense convinced the Europeans how seriously this threat is taken in the United States and has propelled them to offer new proposals for sanctions for ways of pressuring Iran without use of force."

The U.S. is seeking support from European countries as it pushes for a new round of U.N. sanctions this week. Although the sanctions target Iranian banks, European and overseas firms with business ties to Tehran would also feel the impact.