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Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses June 26, 2012

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses June 26, 2012

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Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses
Kenneth Katzman Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs June 26, 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. A sense of potential crisis in late 2011 and early 2012 was generated by growing suspicions in the interna
Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses
Kenneth Katzman Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs June 26, 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. A sense of potential crisis in late 2011 and early 2012 was generated by growing suspicions in the interna

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Published by: Confederation of Iranian students on Jul 06, 2012
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The crackdown on the 2009 election-related unrest by Iran and its refusal to agree to technical
terms of the October 1, 2009, nuclear agreement shifted the Administration’s focus to pressure. In
a statement following the June 9, 2010, passage of Resolution 1929, President Obama described
Iran as refusing to accept the path of engagement and choosing instead to preserve all elements of
its nuclear program. Since then, the Administration has emphasized imposing and implementing
additional sanctions, while still offering dialogue and negotiations if Iran is willing to bargain
seriously on the core concerns about its nuclear program.

At the same time, the Administration has downplayed the possibility of military action. In
attempting to dissuade Israel from striking Iran militarily, President Obama said during the March
4-6, 2012, visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—a visit that focused on differing
U.S. and Israeli perceptions of the urgency of the Iranian nuclear issue—that sanctions are
beginning to work and should be given more time. He made these points in his March 4, 2012,
speech before the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). And, as noted, the
Administration has accepted Iran’s professions of flexibility in agreeing to a negotiating process
that began in Istanbul in mid-April 2012. If the process fails to make progress during July 3,
2012, technical talks or thereafter, it is likely the Administration will consider additional sanctions

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses

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63

beyond the EU oil embargo and related U.S. sanctions taking effect as of the end of June 2012.
These and other sanctions are discussed in detail in CRS Report RS20871, Iran Sanctions.

In concert with the democratic uprisings in the Middle East that began in 2011, the
Administration also has expressed more direct criticism of Iran for its human rights abuses. As
noted above, President Obama’s March 20, 2011, Nowruz statement was significantly more
supportive of the pro-democracy movement in Iran than it was in prior years. The focus of his
March 20, 2012, Nowruz statement was on stating that the United States will seek to help Iranians
circumvent government restrictions on the Internet and other media forms. These
pronouncements have been supported by imposition of sanctions on Iranian human rights abusers,
as discussed further below in the section on regime change.

U.S. and Other Military Action: “On The Table” as Iran’s Nuclear
Program Continues to Advance

The statements by President Obama before, during, and after the Netanyahu visit suggested that
there could be consideration of military options if the negotiating process breaks down. President
Obama indicated in an interview published March 2, 2012 (The Atlantic) that the U.S. position
that “all options are on the table” means that there is a military component to preventing a
nuclear-armed Iran.61

During the Netanyahu visit, he also explicitly stated that U.S. policy is to
prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, rather than to contain Iran after it presumably becomes a nuclear
weapons state.

Yet, President Obama and other senior officials clearly view military action as a last resort and
that additional sanctions are the preferred course of action if negotiations reach an impasse.
Senior U.S. officials have repeatedly stressed the potential adverse consequences of military
action, such as Iranian retaliation that might expand throughout the region or even beyond, a
reduction of Iran’s regional isolation, a strengthening of Iran’s regime domestically, an escalation
of world oil prices, and the likelihood that military action would only delay Iran’s eventual
acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability by about one to two years. These points were
enumerated by Secretary of Defense Panetta in a speech to the Brookings Institution on
December 2, 2011.62

Most U.S. allies in Europe, not to mention Russia and China, oppose

military action.

Some argue that U.S. military action could set back Iran’s nuclear program because there are only
a limited number of key targets, and these targets are known to U.S. planners and vulnerable,
even those, such as the enrichment site at Fordow, that are hard or buried.63

On the other hand,
reports about U.S. confidence in its ability to do substantial damage to any Iranian nuclear target
could be intended to signal to Israel that the United States can destroy Iran’s nuclear
infrastructure, if needed and so ordered.

61

Jeffrey Goldberg. “Obama to Iran and Israel: ‘As President of the United States, I Don’t Bluff’” The Atlantic, March

2, 2012.

62

http://2scottmontgomery.blogspot.com/2011/12/panetta-brookings-speech.html.

63

Joby Warrick. “Iran: Underground Sites Vulnerable, Experts Say.” Washington Post, March 1, 2012. For an extended
discussion of U.S. air strike options on Iran, see Rogers, Paul. Iran: Consequences Of a War. Oxford Research Group,
February 2006.

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