U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Congressional testimony Wednesday called on Iranians to resolve the country's internal political struggle in favor of moderation and to end support for terrorism and "meddling" in Afghanistan.
Mr. Powell says that if Iran wants a better relationship with the United States and the rest of the world, it should cease the kind of activities that prompted President Bush, in his State of the Union address last week, to include Iran along with Iraq and North Korea in what he termed an "axis of evil."
In testimony to the House International Relations Committee, Mr. Powell said the Bush remark, which drew bitter criticism from Tehran, does not foreclose the possibility of "reasonable conversation" with Iranian leaders.
But he said the United States has a long-standing list of grievances with Iran ranging from weapons proliferation to its support of terrorism, which he said includes the foiled attempt last month to smuggle a boatload of Iranian arms to the Palestinians.
He said Tehran's "latest provocation" was "unhelpful" activity in western Afghanistan, where Iran is accused of helping warlords hostile to the interim government of Hamid Karzai.
In a question and answer session with committee members, Mr. Powell also said Iran was "meddling" in Kabul, yet he also noted what he said was a positive role by Iran in both the Bonn conference which set up the interim Afghan administration and the subsequent Afghan donors meeting in Tokyo.
The Secretary of State said a "great struggle" is going on in Iran between forces for change allied with elected President Mohammad Khatami, and the conservative religious establishment of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He left no doubt of his hope that it is resolved in favor of those who were elected to govern:
"We're making it clear to the Iranians that you've to choose," he said. "If you want to be part of a world that's moving forward, it's time to stop being a state sponsor of terrorism, get out of the "axis of evil" column, and make a choice. Make a choice that we think your people want you to make, and not the choice that your un-elected government has been making in recent years."
In parallel testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA Director George Tenet voiced concern the Iranian reform movement may be "losing its momentum."
He said forces allied to President Khatami have been "stymied" for almost five years by hard-liners he said are using the un-elected institutions they control to block reforms that challenge their "entrenched interests."
The CIA chief said those institutions include the security forces, the judiciary, and the cleric-dominated Guardians Council which has the final say on legislative matters and elections.
Secretary Powell also told the House committee the administration is "taking very seriously" a charge raised by Israel and denied by Iran that Iranian Revolutionary Guards are in southern Lebanon and had supplied Hezbollah guerrillas with artillery rockets capable of being fired deep into Israel.
He said the administration had raised its concern about the report with Lebanon and through intermediaries with Iran, and that the issue would figure in President Bush's White House meeting Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.