By Kelley Beaucar Vlahos
Fox News, WASHINGTON Ã¢â¬â As U.S. officials seek a diplomatic solution to the Iranian regime’s suspected nuclear weapons program, a growing chorus of critics on the right say the Bush administration is being soft on Iran and other so-called "enemies of freedom."
These critics, including some members of the U.S. Congress, say the administration’s diplomatic strategy with Iran will likely come to naught and a more aggressive approach Ã¢â¬â including economic sanctions and regime change Ã¢â¬â should be pursued.
"Time after time, the regime in Tehran has defied the world’s demands that it abandon it nuclear ambitions, even heralding its successful production of enriched uranium only a few months ago," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia.
Ros-Lehtinen made those remarks shortly after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced in May that the United States would engage in direct talks with the Iranian regime if it agreed to suspend its nuclear enrichment program Ã¢â¬â a proposal the Iranian government has so far rejected.
The Florida Republican is chief sponsor of the Iran Freedom Support Act, which calls for tougher U.S. sanctions on Iran until the government there "has verifiably dismantled its weapons of mass destruction programs" and encourages the president to acquire U.N. Security Council approval for tougher global sanctions.
Although the bill does not specifically call for "regime change," it funds assistance to human rights and opposition groups seeking to employ democracy-building efforts aimed at undoing the Iranian regime.
"This bill has a short-term and long-term approach built into one. In the short term, deny regime resources to engage in destructive behavior and weaken regime, while supporting and strengthening pro-democracy opposition in Iran which is a long-term, more permanent solution to the threats posed by regime in Iran," Ros-Lehtinen told FOXNews.com by e-mail.
"These most go hand in hand if opposition is to have a real chance and, most importantly, if we’re going to prevent Iran threat from escalating further," she said.
The bill passed the House in April and now sits in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., is the chief sponsor in the Senate, where the measure has 60 co-sponsors.
While the legislative approach calls for a tough, proactive approach by the United States, some critics outside Congress want to go even further, saying the administration has been too soft on Iran and in its handling of the War on Terror.
"Direct talks with Iran and offering a package of incentives is a bad idea and would only be interpreted as a sign of weakness by Tehran," said Alireza Jafarzadeh, founder of Strategic Policy Consulting, Inc., and former spokesman for the National Council for the Resistance of Iran, labeled a terror organization by the State Department but warmly received by Ros-Lehtinen and others on Capitol Hill.
Rather than approaching Tehran through the United Nations, the administration should be supporting regime change through labor unions and other active democracy movements in Iran, particularly by arming them with tools for communication and organization, he said.
“(Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad is facing major problems domestically, as the Iranian people have stepped up their anti-government demonstrations and protest acts,” Jafarzadeh said, adding that diplomacy is “a dead horse.”
“Regime change is the only viable and the most realistic option to end the threat of the turbaned tyrants inside Iran and abroad,” Jafarzadeh added.