BY MARK LANDLER
The New York Times
DOHA, Qatar — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Monday that the United States feared Iran was drifting toward a military dictatorship, with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seizing control of large swaths of Iran’s political, military, and economic establishment.
“That is how we see it,” Mrs. Clinton said in a televised town hall meeting of students at the Doha campus of Carnegie Mellon University.
“We see that the government in Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the Parliament, is being supplanted and that Iran is moving towards a military dictatorship.”
The United States, she said, was tailoring a new set of tougher United Nations sanctions to target the Revolutionary Guard Corps, which controls Iran’s nuclear program and which she said had increasingly marginalized the country’s clerical and political leadership.
Mrs. Clinton’s remarks were remarkably blunt, given her audience in Qatar, a Persian Gulf emirate with close ties to Iran. But they build on the administration’s recent strategy of branding the Revolutionary Guard Corps as an “entitled class” that is the principal menace in Iran.
The United States, Mrs. Clinton said, would protect its allies in the gulf from Iranian aggression — a pledge that echoed the idea of a “security umbrella” that she advanced last summer in Asia. She noted that the United States already supplied defensive weapons to several of these countries, and was prepared to bolster its military assistance if necessary.
“We will always defend ourselves, and we will always defend our friends and allies, and we will certainly defend countries who are in the Gulf who face the greatest immediate nearby threat from Iran,” she said. “We also are talking at length with a lot of our friends in the Gulf about what they need defensively in the event that Iran pursues its nuclear ambitions.”
Pressed repeatedly by an audience of mainly Muslim students, Mrs. Clinton said the United States had no plans to carry out a military strike against Iran.
Still, as the Obama administration moves from diplomacy to pressure, its policy is edging closer to the hard line toward Iran that Mrs. Clinton advocated as a presidential candidate. At times on this trip, her public comments have sounded a lot like her words on the campaign trail.
Asked about the so-called “security umbrella” — a phrase that Mrs. Clinton first used during the Democratic primary and which the White House did not embrace after she mentioned it in Thailand last summer — she said she still believed it was the best way to counter the Iranian threat.
Iran’s neighbors, she said, had three options. “They can just give in to the threat; or they can seek their own capabilities, including nuclear; or they ally themselves with a country like the United States that is willing to help defend them.”
“I think the third is by far the preferable option,” she said.
In targeting the Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Obama administration is also trying to drive a wedge between ordinary Iranians and a privileged and corrupt ruling class. Speaking to reporters as she flew from Qatar to Saudi Arabia later on Monday, Mrs. Clinton emphasized this rift.
“I think the trend with this greater and greater military lock on leadership decisions should be disturbing to Iranians as well as to those of us on the outside,” she said.
Last week, the Treasury Department froze the assets within its jurisdiction of four companies controlled by the Revolutionary Guards, as well as those of Gen. Rostam Qasemi, a commander who oversees the Guard’s construction and engineering conglomerate, Khatam al-Anbiya.
In Saudi Arabia, Mrs. Clinton was expected to meet with King Abdullah at his desert retreat outside Riyadh. Officials said she would raise the issue of Saudi Arabia offering guarantees to China that it would offset any disruptions in oil supplies that could occur if China were to support sanctions against Iran.
Her comments on Monday underscored the Obama administration’s determination to single out the elite corps as a way to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
The administration is also working on a series of sanctions that would publicly single out the corps’ vast array of companies, banks and other entities.
The latest designations, which come two and a half years after the United States first imposed sanctions on the corps, illustrate both the scope and limitations of the president’s pressure campaign.
Senior White House officials described what they said would be a “systematic” effort to drive a wedge between the Iranian population and the Revolutionary Guards, which the West says is responsible for running Iran’s nuclear program and also has a record of supporting militant Islamist organizations and cracking down on antigovernment protesters.
In putting together a United Nations Security Council resolution that names specific companies and the wide web of assets owned by the Guards — assets that include even the Tehran airport — the administration is hoping to substantially increase pressure on the organization, which one senior administration official described as a new “entitled class” in Iran.
“We have bent over backwards to say to the Islamic Republic of Iran that we are willing to have a constructive conversation about how they can align themselves with international norms and rules and re-enter as full members of the international community,” Mr. Obama said in a news conference last Tuesday. “They have made their choice so far.”
The United States, Mr. Obama said, will be working on “developing a significant regime of sanctions that will indicate to them how isolated they are from the international community as a whole.”
The goal would be to increase the cost for those who do business with Iran so much that they would cut off ties.
Previous resolutions have designated a handful of senior figures in the Iranian nuclear program, including the man believed to run much of the military research program for the Revolutionary Guards. But the administration’s latest push would name dozens, if not hundreds, of companies.
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