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US Lawmaker Proposes Democratic, Secular Government in Iran - 2003-05-19

A U.S. lawmaker has introduced legislation aimed at creating a democratic, secular government in Iran.

Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, introduced the bill, which calls on the United States to step up support for pro-democracy campaigners in Iran and increase U.S.-funded broadcasts to that country.

At a Capitol Hill news conference, Senator Brownback said Iranian President Mohammad Khatemi, who has been in office since 1997, has failed to make good on promises of reform.

"Iran is an ideological dictatorship, presided over by an unelected supreme leader, with limitless veto power and unelected expediency council and council of guardians capable of eviscerating any reforms," he said.

As the United States leads an effort to fight global terrorism and establish an open, democratic society in neighboring Iraq, Senator Brownback argues that the Middle East will never be truly stable until the current Iranian government is replaced.

He notes that Iran remains on the U.S. State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, and that U.S. officials last week said Iran is harboring several leaders of the al-Qaida terrorist network, charges that Tehran has denied.

But Senator Brownback does not favor using military action to force a regime change, as the United States did to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"It would be my hope that that would not be required," he said. "What we are doing with this is to support the democracy advocates inside Iran that did not exist in the same nature in Iraq. I think this can happen from inside Iran."

The Bush administration has been waging an internal debate over relations with Iran. The State Department favors greater efforts toward engagement, while the Defense Department and White House urge a tough line against a country that some U.S. officials believe may be on the brink of revolution.

Senator Brownback was accompanied by several Iranian-born American citizens, who recalled experiences being tortured and imprisoned by Iranian authorities.

Among them was Roya Sepehrrad, who was imprisoned when she was a teenager from 1981 to 1985 for disagreeing with the policies of Iran's Islamic leaders. But she tearfully acknowledges she is one of the lucky ones.

"I am here today only because these corrupt clerics extorted my family's wealth in exchange for my life," she said. "Two of my best friends, 16 and 17 years old, were executed. One of them was tortured so seriously she lost her eyes. Many of my friends were raped the night before their executions. The clerics believe this disgusting act performed by Revolutionary Guards is a sacrifice for God. This rape, this so-called sacrifice, is done to prevent virgins from going to heaven."

Senator Brownback introduced similar legislation earlier this year as an amendment to an unrelated bill. The amendment was dropped before the bill was passed.

He is reintroducing the measure as a separate bill, and is hopeful it will win strong support. Legislative aides say a similar measure is expected to be introduced in the House of Representatives.