RIYADH (Reuters) - The United States believes Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are driving the country toward military dictatorship and should be targeted in any new U.N. sanctions, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday.
Speaking in Qatar before flying to Riyadh, Clinton denied the United States planned to attack Iran and said Washington wanted dialogue with Tehran but could not “stand idly by” while Iran pursued a suspected nuclear weapons program.
Clinton said Washington hoped to pressure Iran through a U.N. Security Council resolution targeting the Revolutionary Guards, who she accused of usurping the government.
“We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the parliament, is being supplanted and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship,” she told students in a televised session. “That is our view.”
Clinton later told reporters in Riyadh she hoped Iran’s religious and political leaders would “take back the authority which they should be exercising on behalf of the people.”
The United States is leading a push for the U.N. Security Council to impose a fourth round of sanctions on Iran, which says its nuclear program is solely to generate electricity so it can export more of its oil and gas.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said it was unclear if sanctions would work and suggested that Iran’s Gulf neighbors hoped for a quick U.N. resolution.
In Moscow on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to back “sanctions with teeth” targeting Iran’s energy sector.
Clinton’s remarks were the most open assessment by a senior U.S. official about what Washington sees as the growing influence of the Revolutionary Guards, whose influence has grown in recent years through a network of banks, shipping firms and other companies under their control.
The force, set up after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution to protect the ruling system against internal and external threats, has 125,000 fighters with army, navy and air units. It operates separately from the 350,000-strong army and answers to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s top authority.
The Revolutionary Guards are involved in construction and have expanded to cover areas such as import-export, oil and gas, defense, transport and infrastructure projects.
The West and many Arab states believe Iran is using its civil nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons.
Clinton has acknowledged that U.S. President Barack Obama’s approach to Iran had not borne fruit, blaming Tehran for refusing to engage and suggesting that a fourth U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution was the only option.
While saying Washington was still open to engagement with Iran, Clinton said she wanted the world to send “an unequivocal message to Iran that we will not stand idly by while you pursue a nuclear program that can be used to threaten your neighbors and even beyond.”
In Washington, a National Security Council spokesman called on Iran to accept a deal from October to send uranium abroad for enrichment, a position echoed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
While Arab states fear the possibility of Iran getting the bomb, and say that it could spark a regional arms race, they are also uneasy about the possibility that military action by Israel against Iran could profoundly destabilize the region.
Clinton, expected to seek more diplomatic pressure on Iran, held a nearly four-hour meeting with Saudi King Abdullah.
U.S. officials have hinted that one way Saudi Arabia could help diplomatically would be to offer China guarantees it would meet Chinese oil requirements, a step that might ease Beijing’s reluctance to impose further sanctions on Iran.
China, which wields a veto on the Security Council, has lucrative commercial relationships with Iran and, along with Russia, has worked to dilute previous sanctions resolutions.
Prince Saud al-Faisal would not say whether Saudi Arabia had offered China fuel guarantees, but he gently nudged Beijing to back sanctions.
Saying China took its Security Council role very seriously, the prince said: “They need no suggestion from Saudi Arabia to do what they ought to do.”