The U.S. Senate Wednesday night passed a measure aimed at supporting pro-democracy advocates in Iran. The chamber acted as demonstrators rallied in Tehran and in Washington to mark the fourth anniversary of violent student protests in the Iranian capital.
The "Iran Democracy Act", which passed by voice vote, would, among other things, expand U.S.-funded radio and television broadcasts to Iran and call for an internationally-monitored referendum to allow the Iranian people to peacefully change their system of government.
Just hours after pro-democracy demonstrators clashed with police and vigilantes in Tehran, Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, brought his legislation to the Senate floor for the vote.
"It is clear by the Iranian regime's treatment of its own people in their attempt to be heard that Iran is no democracy," he said. "We should clearly establish that we are opposed to the regime in Tehran, but we are with the people of Iran."
The measure is attached as an amendment to the State Department's budget bill, which funds U.S. foreign operations. The House must act on the bill before it is sent to President Bush for his signature. The Bush administration, which has designated Iran part of an axis of evil and a key state sponsor of terrorism, has signaled that it supports the measure.
Senator Brownback said supporting the forces of democracy in Iran is in the direct security interests of the United States. He noted international concerns about Iran's nuclear program, and Iran's confirmation this week that it tested a mid-range missile, capable of striking a number of targets in the Middle East, including Israel.
"This means that Iran could have nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, to hit at us, or our friends and allies in the region," he said. "Clearly this is a bad situation which is getting worse by the day."
Earlier, at a rally in support of democracy in Iran held on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, Senator Brownback offered encouragement to democracy advocates protesting in Iran.
"Stay strong, and know that America supports you," he said, "and we will be there to help you rebuild your beautiful land, hopefully next July, hopefully next July, as America celebrates its Independence Day, we can rejoice with you in celebrating your independence!"
Hundreds of Iranian-Americans turned out for the rally.