A group of U.S. lawmakers is calling for a change in U.S. policy toward Iran. They are urging the Bush administration to abandon efforts to work with the Iranian government, in favor of appealing directly to pro-democracy supporters among the Iranian people.
Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas, a sponsor of the bi-partisan resolution, offered harsh words about Iran, which President Bush has labeled part of an axis of evil.
"It is important for us to recognize the current regime in Iran for what it is: an illegitimate, ruling elite that stifles the growth of genuine democracy, abuses human rights and funds the export of terrorism," Mr. Brownback said.
President Mohammad Khatami, who took office in 1997 and was re-elected last year, has long vowed to pursue reform. But Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democratic sponsor of the bill, says Mr. Khatami and his reformist allies have not made good on those promises.
"They are unwilling or unable to produce any tangible democratic changes," Senator Wyden said. "In fact, the record of the Khatami administration has been one of increasing censorship, religious vigilantism and intimidation, and widespread political repression."
Senator Wyden noted the U.S. State Department has cited Iran for systematic human rights abuses, including summary executions, disappearances, and widespread use of torture.
He says frequent demonstrations by students, women and religious dissidents in Iran suggest there is a yearning for democratic change among the Iranian people.
It is an observation shared by Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos of California, who is introducing a similar resolution in the House.
"The Iranian people want nothing more than democracy, equality between men and women, religious freedom, and to become part and parcel of the civilized world in the 21st century," Congressman Lantos said.
The non-binding resolution, which would not have the force of law, does not specify how the United States should appeal to pro-democracy supporters in Iran.
A Washington Post article published earlier this week reported the Bush administration had abandoned efforts to find ways of working with the Iranian government.
But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, while acknowledging U.S. concerns about what he called Iran's support for terrorism and its opposition to Middle East peace efforts, denied the newspaper report. He said U.S. officials would continue to engage Iranian officials directly when useful.
Despite Mr. Fleischer's comments, Congressman Lantos says he believes the administration will back lawmakers' efforts on the issue.