US President George W. Bush has been actively behind "regime change" for Iran, but the route to that end has yet to be defined and the perils are great, US experts said.
Bush and his top aides have turned up the volume in their verbal attacks on the Islamic republic, calling it an "outpost of tyranny" and one of the principal backers of international terror, on its way to developing a nuclear weapon.
It was three years ago that Bush plotted Iran on an "axis of evil," alongside North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
US officials shy away from pronouncing "regime change," a controversial phrase on the international scene, but their intentions are clear, analysts said.
"I have no doubt the president and his closest advisers believe that the way both to solve the nuclear problem but also to deal with terrorism and improve the lives of the Iranian people is regime change," said George Perkovich, an Iran specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank.
"The question is how this regime change happens, and that's the issue.
"It's very important to distinguish between the idea of regime change and the means. And on the means I think there is a division in the administration, but that (Secretary of State Condoleezza) Rice made very clear that the means that they will pursue would be non-coercive and more political."
Bush clearly encouraged opponents to the regime last week, during his annual State of the Union address before Congress: "To the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."
Bush also said Iran "remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror - pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve."
Administration "hawks" have been promoting the idea that the regime is teetering and easy to topple.
"I think it's much easier than in most of the other cases, because we know from the public opinion polls conducted by the mullahs themselves that more than 70 percent of people hate this regime and want it changed, they want to be free," said Michael Ledeen, of the American Enterprise Institute, a neo-conservative think tank.
How to get there is the subject of much Washington speculation.
Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have not ruled out the use of force, not only to potentially destroy Iran's nuclear sites, but also to weaken the regime.
But they have also said they would give a chance for mediation by Britain, France and Germany to wean Iran away from its nuclear ambitions, while being skeptical about chances for a diplomatic success.
A group of legislators has introduced in the US House of Representatives a draft bill, the Iran Freedom Support Act, which would provide further political and financial support for so-called pro-democracy elements, especially opposition television and radio.
The Committee on the Present Danger, a group of Washington heavyweights, including former Republican secretary of state George Shultz and former Democratic presidential hopeful Joseph Lieberman, have released a document saying, "We recommend a peaceful but forceful strategy to engage the Iranian people to remove the threat and establish a strong relationship, which is in both nations' and the regions's interests."