WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked Congress yesterday to fund a sweeping initiative to promote democracy inside Iran that would expand satellite broadcasts to enable Washington to ”engage” directly with the Iranian people. The initiative also would lift US restrictions to allow US funding for Iranian trade unions, political dissidents, and nongovernmental organizations.
The new request, which was made yesterday at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Bush’s foreign affairs budget, would increase spending on democracy programs for Iran this year from $10 million to $85 million.
Rice announced the initiative as Washington steps up pressure on the hard-line regime in Tehran over its nuclear program, which Washington suspects is geared toward producing a nuclear weapon.
”We find it in our interest now . . . to see if we can’t engage the Iranian population,” Rice told the senators. ”In some ways, you could argue that they need it even more now because they are being isolated by their own regime.”