Speaking in testimony to the US Senate on Thursday, Condoleeza Rice signaled the US intention to step up the diplomatic offensive against Iran, saying the threat it posed went beyond its controversial nuclear programme.

 

"It's not just Iran's nuclear programme but also their support for terrorism around the world. They are, in effect, the central banker for terrorism," she told the Senate Budget Committee.

 

Rice’s comments came a few days before a planned trip to the Middle East, during which she plans to hold talks with regional allies on containing a regime she said was bent on "political subversion, terrorism, and support for violent Islamist extremism."

 

Claiming success for recent US efforts to haul Iran before the UN Security Council for its nuclear activities, she added that it was not possible just to address Iran’s nuclear program “in a vacuum".

 

"Perhaps one of the biggest challenges we face is the policy of the Iranian regime, which is a policy of destabilization of the world's most volatile and vulnerable region," she said.

 

"It is Iran's regional policies that really are concerning as we watch them, with their sidekick Syria, destabilizing places like Lebanon and the Palestinian territories and, indeed, even in southern Iraq."

 

'Strategic challenge'

 

Rice said Iran and Syria were
destabilising the Middle East

The United States has accused Iran of supporting militant groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as Iraqi insurgents and Palestinian movements such as Hamas that are opposed to peace with Israel.

 

Rice's testimony came a day after she and other US officials signaled Washington's intention to launch a broadened diplomatic offensive against Iran calling it a "strategic challenge" to the world.

 

Meanwhile the Bush administration is hoping to put the spotlight on Tehran at a meeting of the Group of Eight industrial powers in Moscow next week, with plans also in the works for a NATO session specifically on Iran, officials said.

 

'Imperialism'

 

As its contribution to ratcheting up the pressure on Iran, the US House of Representatives voted 404-4 Thursday to approve a resolution condemning the government of Iran for resuming its nuclear activities.

 

Iran, which insists its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes, pursued its own diplomatic maneuverings on Thursday to counter the American diplomatic onslaught.

 

Iranian parliament speaker Gholam Ali Hadad-Adel started a two-day visit to Cuba, proclaiming that Tehran was "facing imperialism in the front lines" and needed the Marxist-ruled island's continued support.