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CRS January 30, 2012

CRS January 30, 2012

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Published by: Confederation of Iranian students on Mar 10, 2012
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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 Affairs January 30, 2012
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. Tensionshave been particularly elevated since Iran’s late December 2011 threat to try to choke off much of the world’s oil supplies by attempting to close the Strait of Hormuz—a reaction to the impositionof significant sanctions against Iran’s vital exports of oil. U.S. officials also accuse Iran of helpingSyria’s leadership try to defeat a growing popular opposition movement, and of taking advantageof Shiite majority unrest against the Sunni-led, pro-U.S. government of Bahrain.The sense of imminent crisis with Iran which greeted the beginning of 2012 follows three years inwhich the Obama Administration first offered Iran’s leaders consistent and sustained engagementin exchange for limits to its nuclear program but, since 2010, has emphasized pressuring Iranthrough economic sanctions. Significant additional sanctions were imposed on Iran by the U.N.Security Council (Resolution 1929), as well as related “national measures” by the EuropeanUnion, Japan, South Korea, and other countries. Further measures intended to compel foreignfirms to exit the Iranian market were contained in U.S. legislation passed in June 2010 (theComprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, P.L. 111-195). In late 2011,the Administration, Congress, and U.S. partners increased sanctions significantly by attempting tocut off transactions with Iran’s Central Bank and through the European Union’s January 23, 2012,imposition of an embargo on purchases of Iranian oil. The Administration also maintains a40,000-50,000 troop military presence in the Persian Gulf, and it has stepped up arms sales toregional states that share the U.S. suspicions of Iran’s intentions. None of the pressure has, to date, altered Iran’s pursuit of its nuclear program. Iran attendedDecember 2010 and January 2011 talks with the six powers negotiating with Iran, but no progresswas reported at any of these meetings. However, at the end of 2011, as sanctions were beingadded, there were indications that the regime was concerned about the growing effect of international sanctions on the public and on the upcoming March 2, 2012, parliamentaryelections. The regime has arrested some activists whom they suspect might try to spark unrestduring the election campaign—a fear heightened by the boycott of the poll by reformist groups.Iran’s leaders responded not only with threats to commerce in the Strait of Hormuz, but alsostated a willingness to enter into new nuclear talks. Iran also, for the first time, agreed to discusswith the IAEA the allegations that it has worked on nuclear weapons designs. At the same time, itannounced it would begin uranium enrichment at a deep underground facility near Qom.Iran policy also has evolved in the context of the popular uprisings throughout the Middle East in2011 and the failure of Iran’s own uprising in 2009. The United States has increased publiccriticism of Iran’s human rights record, an effort broadly supported in the internationalcommunity. Some in the 112
th
Congress, aside from supporting additional economic sanctionsagainst Iran, believe the United States should provide additional vocal and material support to thedemocracy movement in Iran, despite its outward quiescence in 2010-2011. The Administrationargues that it has supported the opposition through civil society and other programs, and by usingrecent authorities to sanction Iranian officials who suppress human rights in Iran and help Syriarepress human rights. For further information, including pending Iran sanctions legislation, seeCRS Report RS20871,
 Iran Sanctions
; 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
 
Upcoming March 2, 2012, Majles Elections: Reformists Boycott, Hardliners RunAgainst Each Other........................................................................................................14
 
The Opposition........................................................................................................................15
 
The Green Movement........................................................................................................15
 
Green Movement Allies and Other U.S.-Based Activists..................................................17
 
The Opposition: Armed Factions.............................................................................................18
 
People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI)/Camp Ashraf......................................18
 
Pro-Monarchy Radical Groups..........................................................................................21
 
Ethnic or Religiously Based Armed Groups.....................................................................21
 
Other Human Rights Practices.......................................................................................................22
 
Criticism of Iran’s Record in U.N. Bodies..............................................................................22
 
Special U.N. Rapporteur Reestablished............................................................................23
 
Iran’s Strategic Capabilities and Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs...................................25
 
Conventional Military/Revolutionary Guard/Qods Force.......................................................25
 
 Nuclear Program and Related International Diplomacy..........................................................29
 
Iran’s Nuclear Intentions and the November 8, 2011, IAEA Report.................................29
 
Iran’s Position and Counter-Arguments............................................................................30
 
 Nuclear Weapons Time Frame Estimates..........................................................................30
 
Status of Enrichment.........................................................................................................31
 
The International Response and Policies...........................................................................32
 
The International Response Under the Obama Administration.........................................36
 
Chemical Weapons, Biological Weapons, and Missiles..........................................................41
 
Ballistic Missiles/Warheads..............................................................................................41
 
Foreign Policy and Support for Terrorist Groups..........................................................................43
 
Alleged Plot to Assassinate the Saudi Ambassador.................................................................44
 
Foreign Policy: Relations with the Persian Gulf States...........................................................45
 
Iranian Policy in Iraq...............................................................................................................48
 
Supporting Palestinian Militant Groups..................................................................................49
 
Iran and Hamas..................................................................................................................49
 
Lebanese Hezbollah and Syria................................................................................................50
 
Syria..................................................................................................................................52
 
Central Asia and the Caspian...................................................................................................53
 

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