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CRS Report for Congress
 Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses
Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern AffairsDecember 15, 2011
Congressional Research Service
7-5700www.crs.govRL32048
 
Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy ResponsesCongressional Research Service
Summary
The Obama Administration identifies Iran as a major threat to U.S. national security interests.This perception is generated by suspicions of Iran’s intentions for its nuclear program -heightened by a November 8, 2011, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report - as wellas by Iran’s support for militant groups in the Middle East and in Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S.officials also accuse Iran of helping Syria’s leadership try to defeat a growing popular oppositionmovement, and of taking advantage of Shiite majority unrest against the Sunni-led, pro-U.S.government of Bahrain. In October 2011, U.S. officials accused Iran of plotting to assassinate theSaudi Ambassador to the United States.The Obama Administration initially offered Iran’s leaders consistent and sustained engagementwith the potential for closer integration with and acceptance by the West in exchange for limits toits nuclear program. After observing a crackdown on peaceful protests in Iran in 2009, and failingto obtain Iran’s agreement to implement any nuclear compromise, the Administration has workedsince early 2010 on a “two-track strategy” to increase economic and diplomatic pressure on Iranwhile maintaining offers of further engagement. Significant additional sanctions were imposed onIran by the U.N. Security Council (Resolution 1929), as well as related “national measures” bythe European Union, Japan, South Korea, and other countries. Further measures intended tocompel foreign firms to exit the Iranian market were contained in U.S. legislation passed in June2010 (the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, P.L. 111-195). Inconcert, the Administration has stepped up arms sales to regional states that share the U.S.suspicions of Iran’s intentions.Perhaps hoping to avoid additional sanctions, Iran attended December 2010 and January 2011talks with the six powers negotiating with Iran, but no substantive progress was reported at any of these meetings. The prospects for new talks seemed to increase in August 2011 as a result of Iran-Russia discussions of new formulas for compromise, supplemented by Iranian official statementssuggesting potential acceptance of some widely discussed international proposals. However, nodate for new talks was arranged and the November 2011 IAEA report reduced the prospect for new talks and increased international support for additional sanctions. This tend has beenaccelerated by a row between Iran and Britain that included the ransacking of Britain’s embassyin Tehran on November 29 by youths tacitly backed by Iran’s security forces—an action that hasfurthered Tehran’s isolation.In 2011, in the context of the popular uprisings throughout the Middle East, and perhapsaddressing criticism that it did not sufficiently support the popular uprising in Iran in 2009, theAdministration has increased its public criticism of Iran’s human rights record. That effort has been broadly supported in the international community. Some in the 112
th
Congress, aside fromsupporting additional economic sanctions against Iran, believe the United States should provideadditional vocal and material support to the democracy movement in Iran, despite its outwardquiescence in most of 2011. The Administration argues that it has supported the oppositionthrough civil society and other programs, and by using recent authorities to sanction Iranianofficials who suppress human rights in Iran and help Syria repress human rights. For further information, including pending Iran sanctions legislation, see CRS Report RS20871,
 IranSanctions
; and CRS Report RL34544,
 Iran’s Nuclear Program: Status
.
 
Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy ResponsesCongressional Research Service
Contents
Political History...............................................................................................................................1
 
Regime Structure, Stability, and Opposition....................................................................................2
 
Unelected Governing Institutions: The Supreme Leader, His Powers, and Other Ruling Councils......................................................................................................................2
 
Council of Guardians and Expediency Council..................................................................3
 
Elected Institutions: The Presidency, the Majles (Parliament), the Assembly of Experts, and Recent Elections................................................................................................8
 
The Presidency....................................................................................................................8
 
The Majles...........................................................................................................................8
 
The Assembly of Experts....................................................................................................9
 
Recent Presidential Elections: First Ahmadinejad Election in 2005...................................9
 
Ahmadinejad (Disputed) Reelection on June 12, 2009: Protests Erupt............................10
 
Ahmadinejad’s Second Term: Divisions Within the Regime Increase WithPopular Unrest and Arab Uprisings As Backdrop..........................................................11
 
The Opposition........................................................................................................................14
 
The Green Movement........................................................................................................15
 
Green Movement Allies and Other U.S.-Based Activists..................................................16
 
The Opposition: Armed Factions.............................................................................................17
 
People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI)/Camp Ashraf......................................17
 
Pro-Monarchy Radical Groups..........................................................................................20
 
Ethnic or Religiously Based Armed Groups.....................................................................20
 
Other Human Rights Practices.......................................................................................................21
 
Criticism of Iran’s Record in U.N. Bodies..............................................................................22
 
Special U.N. Rapporteur Reestablished............................................................................22
 
Iran’s Strategic Capabilities and Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs...................................24
 
Conventional Military/Revolutionary Guard/Qods Force.......................................................25
 
 Nuclear Program and Related International Diplomacy..........................................................28
 
Iran’s Nuclear Intentions and the November 8, 2011, IAEA Report.................................28
 
Iran’s Position and Counter-Arguments............................................................................29
 
Status of Enrichment and Time Frame Estimates..............................................................29
 
The International Response and Policies...........................................................................31
 
The International Response Under the Obama Administration.........................................35
 
Chemical Weapons, Biological Weapons, and Missiles..........................................................39
 
Ballistic Missiles/Warheads..............................................................................................40
 
Foreign Policy and Support for Terrorist Groups..........................................................................41
 
Alleged Plot to Assassinate the Saudi Ambassador.................................................................42
 
Foreign Policy: Relations with the Persian Gulf States...........................................................44
 
Iranian Policy in Iraq...............................................................................................................46
 
Supporting Palestinian Militant Groups..................................................................................47
 
Iran and Hamas..................................................................................................................48
 
Lebanese Hezbollah and Syria................................................................................................49
 
Syria..................................................................................................................................50
 
Central Asia and the Caspian...................................................................................................51
 
South Asia: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India..........................................................................52
 
Afghanistan.......................................................................................................................52
 
Pakistan.............................................................................................................................53
 

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