WASHINGTON (CN) - The United States thinks the Revolutionary Guard in Iran is working to replace the current government, State Department Sec. Hillary Clinton told Qatar students Monday. "We see that the Government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the parliament, is being supplanted, and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship," she said.
While taking questions from a largely Muslim group of students at Carnegie Mellon's Doha campus during a question and answer session, Clinton expressed concern that a nuclear Iran could spark a regional arms race, but she said that the United States would work to ensure the safety of Iran's neighbors, most likely by developing missile shields in the region.
"We will always defend ourselves, and we will always defend our friends and allies. And we will certainly defend countries here in the Gulf who face the greatest immediate nearby threat from Iran," Clinton said in an address broadcast by Al Jazeera, which has its headquarters in the small
Clinton's remarks come as the United States presses the case internationally that a military dictatorship in Iran, especially a nuclear-powered one, could destabilize the region.
She also made the case that developing nuclear weapons is expensive and ineffective.
"This is not the Cold War. In the Cold War the feeling was that you could deter each other, that no rationale state would use a nuclear weapon on another, because they would immediately be destroyed. So that has kept everything in balance," she said in promoting the abolition of all nuclear weapons. "When you have people who are willing to kill themselves, and kill many others at the same time, that upsets the balance."
Audience members asked whether the United States has plans to attack Iran, but Clinton said it does not, noting that the United States is instead working with the United Nations to impose even more economic sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard Corps, which controls the oil-rich country's nuclear enrichment program.
Iran's Revolutionary Guard - which led the crack down on protesters after the disputed Iranian elections - was founded after the 1979 Islamic Revolution to protect the regime against internal and external threats, but it has since expanded its role to dominate the economic, political, social and military landscape of the country and some believe its authority exceeds that of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who legally has final say on all state matters, the Council on Foreign Relations writes.
The Obama administration has announced plans for the United States to give up its own nuclear weapons in the long-run, and is now in negotiations with Russia to diminish the extensive arsenals of the two nations.
The United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korean are all know to have nuclear weapons. Israel is also thought to have nuclear weapons and the government has neither directly denied nor supported this allegation.
Despite an international offer to enrich the uranium and return it to Iran, the government announced last week that it has started efforts to enrich uranium to 20 percent, which experts say requires the same technology as enriching uranium to a nuclear-weapon ready 93 percent. Iran has maintained that the enrichment is purely for energy purposes.
At a French military academy last month
The international community has long held concerns over Iran's nuclear agenda, despite the nation's status as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The United Nations has imposed and tightened sanctions on the country after discovering secret uranium enrichment laboratories, which must be disclosed under the treaty.
Last week, the United States froze the assets of one Revolutionary Guard commander and four firms linked to the Revolutionary Guard, and it is urging the international community to do the same.
China's stance on increased sanctions is still in doubt, given its thirst for oil. China is a permanent member of the United States and holds veto power.