WASHINGTON – The Bush administration endorsed demonstrators in Iran "who are asking to join the modern world," but said U.S. support is limited to that and nothing more.
Pro-democracy demonstrators have protested for a week and clashed with police and vigilantes who back the clerical regime in Tehran (search).
"We've been concerned about the use of violence against the demonstrators," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday. "It's time for the voices of the Iranian people to be listened to and heard."
Asked about Iranian government allegations that the administration was providing material support to the protesters, the spokesman said "the demonstrations are not about the United States, they are about Iran, by Iranians, about Iranian policy. They don't have anything to do with the United States."
And so, Boucher said, "we've offered our support, our encouragement and we made clear what side we stand on, and that these are Iranians protesting Iranian policy."
"They need to be seen that way, not blamed on something outside," he said.
On Capitol Hill, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., and 12 co-sponsors introduced a bill Friday to provide U.S. help for democratic opponents of the Iranian government and for dissident broadcasters based in the United States.
The legislation also would impose an embargo on importation of Iranian goods and allow the president to reduce U.S. contributions to the World Bank and other institutions that assist Iran.
"It is important that American policy-makers adopt a strong position in support of those brave Iranians who take to the streets to demand democracy and respect for human rights," the senior Democrat on the House terrorism subcommittee said.
Iran, like Iraq, was included by President Bush in the "axis of evil" along with North Korea (search). But unlike Iraq (search), against which Bush went to war to bring down the government, he has not threatened to use force against Iran.
On the diplomatic front, the administration is trying to organize world opinion against what it insists are Iranian and North Korean programs to produce nuclear weapons.
And the administration publicly has expressed confidence there were forces of moderation in the Iranian legislature and among the people.
"All that we're involved in here is expressing our moral support, our rhetorical support, our solidarity with the demonstrators," Boucher said. "That's as much as I can speak for at this point."