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Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, March 23, 2012

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, March 23, 2012

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Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses
Kenneth Katzman Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs March 23, 2012

Congressional Research Service 7-5700 www.crs.gov RL32048

CRS Report for Congress
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses

Summary
The issue of Iran and its nuclear program has emerged as a top priority for the Obama Administration. The sense of impending crisis is generated by growing suspicions in the international community that Iran
Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses
Kenneth Katzman Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs March 23, 2012

Congressional Research Service 7-5700 www.crs.gov RL32048

CRS Report for Congress
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses

Summary
The issue of Iran and its nuclear program has emerged as a top priority for the Obama Administration. The sense of impending crisis is generated by growing suspicions in the international community that Iran

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Published by: Confederation of Iranian students on Apr 21, 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 AffairsMarch 23, 2012
Congressional Research Service
7-5700www.crs.govRL32048
 
Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy ResponsesCongressional Research Service
Summary
The issue of Iran and its nuclear program has emerged as a top priority for the ObamaAdministration. The sense of impending crisis is generated by growing suspicions in theinternational community that Iran’s nuclear program is not for purely peaceful purposes, and thedetermination of the government of Israel, in particular, that it might take unilateral militaryaction against Iran’s nuclear facilities if its progress is not soon halted. The United States alsosees a threat to U.S. interests posed by Iran’s support for militant groups in the Middle East and inIraq and Afghanistan. U.S. officials accuse Iran of helping Syria’s leadership try to defeat agrowing popular opposition movement and of taking advantage of Shiite majority unrest againstthe Sunni-led, pro-U.S. government of Bahrain. Tensions have been particularly elevated sinceIran’s late-December 2011 threat to try to choke off much of the world’s oil supplies byattempting to close the Strait of Hormuz—a reaction to the imposition of significant sanctionsagainst Iran’s vital exports of oil.The heightened tensions follow three years in which the Obama Administration has assembled a broad international coalition to pressure Iran through economic sanctions while also offeringsustained engagement with Iran if it verifiably assures the international community that itsnuclear program is peaceful. None of the pressure has, to date, altered Iran’s pursuit of its nuclear  program: Iran attended December 2010 and January 2011 talks with the six powers negotiatingwith Iran, but no progress was reported at any of these meetings. In early 2012, Iran beganuranium enrichment at a deep underground facility near Qom to a level of 20% enrichment.However, since the beginning of 2012, as significant multilateral sanctions have been added onIran’s oil exports—including an oil purchase embargo by the European Union to go into fulleffect by July 1, 2012—there are growing indications that the regime feels economic pressure.Iran’s leaders have responded not only with threats to commerce in the Strait of Hormuz, but anacceptance of new nuclear talks without preconditions. The Administration uses indicators suchas Iran’s economic deterioration and its willingness to engage in new talks as evidence that policyis starting to work and should be given more time before any consideration of U.S. or other country military options.The Administration also perceives that the legitimacy and popularity of Iran’s regime is indecline, although not to the point where the regime’s grip on power is threatened. The regime hassought to use the international pressure to rally the public to its side, playing on nationalistsentiment to encourage high turnout in the March 2, 2012, parliamentary elections. The boycottof the poll by reformist groups rendered the election a contest between factions supporting either President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i. Khamene’i supporterswere elected overwhelmingly, helping the Supreme Leader solidify his control over day-to-daygovernance. Over the past two years, the United States has increased public criticism of Iran’shuman rights record, an effort broadly supported in the international community. Some in the112
th
Congress, aside from supporting additional economic sanctions against Iran, believe theUnited States should provide additional political support to the democracy movement in Iran,despite the relative quiescence of the opposition since early 2010. The Administration argues thatit has supported the opposition through civil society and other programs, and by using recentauthorities to sanction Iranian officials who suppress human rights in Iran and help Syria represshuman rights. For further information, including pending Iran sanctions legislation, see CRSReport RS20871,
 Iran Sanctions
, and CRS Report R40094,
 Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’sCompliance with International Obligations
, by Paul K. Kerr 
 
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..............................11
 
March 2, 2012, Majles Elections: Reformists Boycott, Hardliners Run AgainstEach Other......................................................................................................................12
 
The Opposition........................................................................................................................14
 
The Green Movement........................................................................................................14
 
Green Movement Allies and Other U.S.-Based Groups....................................................15
 
Exiled Opposition Factions: People’s Mojahedin and Others...........................................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..............................................................................21
 
Special U.N. Rapporteur Reestablished............................................................................22
 
Iran’s Strategic Capabilities and Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs...................................24
 
Conventional Military/Revolutionary Guard/Qods Force.......................................................24
 
 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
 
 Nuclear Weapons Time Frame Estimates..........................................................................29
 
Status of Enrichment.........................................................................................................30
 
The International Response and Policies...........................................................................31
 
The International Response Under the Obama Administration.........................................34
 
Chemical Weapons, Biological Weapons, and Missiles..........................................................39
 
Ballistic Missiles/Warheads..............................................................................................39
 
Foreign Policy and Support for Terrorist Groups..........................................................................41
 
Support for International Terrorism.........................................................................................42
 
Foreign Policy: Relations with the Persian Gulf States...........................................................43
 
Iranian Policy in Iraq...............................................................................................................46
 
Supporting Palestinian Militant Groups..................................................................................47
 
Iran and Hamas..................................................................................................................47
 
Lebanese Hezbollah and Syria................................................................................................48
 
Syria..................................................................................................................................49
 
Central Asia and the Caspian...................................................................................................50
 
South Asia: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India..........................................................................51
 
Afghanistan.......................................................................................................................51
 

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