The Washington Post reported on Monday that the administration of George Bush, the US president, intends to mount a campaign against Tehran's religious leaders in its efforts to build international pressure against Iran's nuclear programme.
   
Board members of Stanford University's Hoover Institution who met Bush, Dick Cheney - the US vice-president - and Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, two weeks ago told the Post that they had the impression that the administration had shifted to a tougher policy against the Tehran regime.
   
Esmail Amid-Hozour, an Iranian-American businessman who serves on the Hoover board, said: "The message that we received is that they are in favour of separating the Iranian people from the regime."

Richard Haas, a former state department policy planning director in Bush's first term, told the newspaper he believed that the US should try direct negotiations with Tehran, but he said: "The upper hand is with those who are pushing regime change rather than those who are advocating more diplomacy."

Iran desk
   
The newspaper also said Bush, according to aides, had personally been spending more time on the Iran issue and his advisers had invited 30 to 40 specialists for consultations in recent months.
   

"The message that we received is that they are in favour of separating the Iranian people from the regime"

Esmail Amid-Hozour, businessman on the Hoover board

Iran, which has fought to avoid being taken to the UN Security Council over its nuclear programme, suspects that Bush is using the nuclear issue as a pretext for promoting a change in the Islamic republic's government.
       
The Post also reported that the state department created an Iran desk in Washington last week, with 10 staff working full-time on Iran, compared with only two last year.

Watching Iran

The department is also starting more training in the Farsi language and is planning an Iranian career track, which has been difficult without an embassy there.
   
Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state, told the Post that the department would also add staff in Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates, as well as at other embassies in the vicinity of Iran, all assigned to watch Tehran.

He called the new Dubai outpost the "21st-century equivalent" of the Riga station in Latvia that monitored the Soviet Union in the 1930s when the United States had no embassy in Moscow.
   
The campaign also includes expanded Voice of America broadcasts into Iran to four hours a day from one hour currently.