Order Code RL32048
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Iran: U.S. Concerns and
July 22, 2005
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses
The Bush Administration has pursued several avenues to attempt to contain or
end the potential threat posed by Iran, at times pursuing limited engagement , and at
other times leaning toward pursuing efforts to change Iran’s regime. Some experts
believe a potential crisis is looming over Iran’s nuclear program because the Bush
Administration is skeptical that efforts by several European allies to prevent a nuclear
breakout by Iran will succeed. The Bush Administration is formally supporting those
talks. U.S. concerns have been heightened by the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
an admitted hardliner, in Iran’s presidential election on June 24, 2005. Some
advocate military action against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but others believe that
a combination of diplomatic and economic rewards and punishment are the only
viable options on the nuclear issue. U.S. sanctions currently in effect ban or strictly
limit U.S. trade, aid, and investment in Iran and penalize foreign firms that invest in
Iran’s energy sector, but unilateral U.S. sanctions do not appear to have materially
slowed Iran’s WMD programs to date.
Other major U.S. concerns include Iran’s policy in the Near East region,
particularly Iran’s material support to groups that use violence against the U.S.-led
Middle East peace process, including Hizballah in Lebanon and the Palestinian
groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Some senior Al Qaeda activists are in
Iran as well, although Iran claims they are “in custody” and will be tried. Iran did not
obstruct the U.S. effort to oust Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, a longtime Tehran adversary,
at least partly in the expectation that pro-Iranian Shiite Islamic factions would come
to power in Iraq in the aftermath. That result occurred as a product of January 30,
2005 elections there. Iran is also assisting pro-Iranian local leaders in Afghanistan,
although that support does not appear to be materially hindering the stabilization and
development of Afghanistan.
Iran’s human rights practices and strict limits on democracy have been
consistently criticized by official U.S. and U.N. reports, particularly for Iran’s
suppression of political dissidents and religious and ethnic minorities. New limits
on personal freedoms could be imposed by Ahmadinejad, who has consistently
advocated a return to many of the original principles of the Islamic revolution as set
down by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. However, Iran does hold elections
for some positions, including that of president, suggesting to some experts that there
might be benefits to engaging Iranian officials. According to this view, new
sanctions or military action could harden Iran’s positions without necessarily easing
the potential threat posed by Iran.
For further information, see CRS Report RS21592, Iran’s Nuclear Program:
Recent Developments, CRS Report RS21548, Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities;
and CRS Report RS20871, The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act. This report will be
updated as warranted by developments.
Threat Assessments and U.S. Concerns . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Political History . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Regime Stability, June 2005 Presidential Elections,and Human Rights . . . . 2
Mohammad Khatemi, Reformists, and Reformist Candidates . . . . . . . 2
The Conservatives, Rafsanjani, and Conservative Candidates . . . . . . . 3
The June 2005 Elections . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Prominent Dissidents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Anti-Regime Groups: People’s Mojahedin Organization of
Iran (PMOI) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Pro-Shah Activists/Exile Broadcasts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Human Rights Record/Crackdowns on Dissent . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Iran’s Strategic Capabilities and Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs . . 9
Nuclear Program . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Recent Congressional Action . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Chemical and Biological Weapons . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Missiles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Foreign Policy and Support for Terrorism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Persian Gulf States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Iraq . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Supporting Anti-Peace Process Groups . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Relations With Central Asia and the Caspian . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Afghanistan/Al Qaeda . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
U.S. Policy Responses and Legislation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Bush Administration Policy and Options . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Regime Change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Engagement? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
Military Action? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
International Sanctions? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
U.S. Sanctions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
Terrorism/Foreign Aid Sanctions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Bam Earthquake . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Proliferation Sanctions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
Counter-Narcotics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
Trade Ban . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) and Regional Oil and
Gas Projects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
Travel-Related Guidance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
Multilateral Policies Toward Iran . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
EU-Iran Trade Negotiations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
Country-Specific Policies: Britain and France . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
Japan/Azadegan Field . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
Multilateral, World Bank, and IMF Lending to Iran . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
WTO Membership . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
Status of Some U.S.-Iran Assets Disputes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
List of Figures
Figure 1. Map of Iran . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Iran: U.S. Concerns and
Threat Assessments and U.S. Concerns
Much of the debate over U.S. policy toward Iran has centered on the nature of
the current regime. Some experts believe that Iran is a threat to U.S. interests
because hardliners in Iran’s regime dominate and set a policy direction intended to
challenge U.S. influence and allies in the region. The elements of that challenge
include attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD), supporting
terrorist groups, and pressuring regional U.S. allies.
The United States was an ally of the late Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
(“the Shah”), who ruled from 1941 until his ouster in February 1979. The Shah
assumed the throne when Britain and Russia forced his father, Reza Shah Pahlavi
(Reza Shah), from power because of his perceived alignment with Germany in World
War II. Reza Shah had assumed power in 1921 when, as an officer in Iran’s only
military force, the Cossack Brigade, he launched a coup against the government of
the Qajar Dynasty.
The Shah was anti-Communist, and the United States viewed his government
as a bulwark against the expansion of Soviet influence in the Persian Gulf. In 1951,
he appointed a popular nationalist parliamentarian, Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq, as
Prime Minister. Mossadeq was widely considered left-leaning, and the United States
was wary of his policies, which included his drive for nationalization of the oil
industry. Mossadeq’s followers began an uprising in August 1953 when the Shah
tried to dismiss Mossadeq, and the Shah fled. The Shah was restored in a CIAsupported coup that year, and Mossadeq was arrested.
The Shah tried to modernize Iran and orient it toward the West, but in so doing
he also tried to limit the influence and freedoms of Iran’s Shiite clergy. He exiled
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1964 because of Khomeini’s active opposition to
the Shah, opposition based on the Shah’s anti-clerical policies and what Khomeini
alleged was the Shah’s forfeiture of Iran’s sovereignty to its patron, the United States.
Khomeini settled in and taught in Najaf, Iraq, before going to France in 1978,
from which he stoked the Islamic revolution. Mass demonstrations and guerrilla
activity by pro-Khomeini forces, allied with a broad array of anti-Shah activists,
caused the Shah’s government to collapse in February 1979. Khomeini returned
from France and, on February 11, 1979, declared an Islamic Republic of Iran. The
Islamic republic is characterized by direct participation in government by Shiite
Islamic theologians, a principle known as velayat-e-faqih (rule by a supreme Islamic
jurisprudent). Khomeini was strongly anti-West and particularly anti-U.S., and
relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic turned hostile even
before the November 4, 1979, seizure of the U.S. Embassy by pro-Khomeini radicals.
Regime Stability, June 2005 Presidential Elections,
and Human Rights
After about a decade as leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini died on
June 3, 1989. Upon Khomeini’s death, one of his disciples, Ayatollah Ali
Khamene’i, then serving as president, was selected Supreme Leader by an “Assembly
of Experts” (an elected body).1 Khamene’i had served two terms as elected president
(1981-1989), but he has lacked the unquestioned spiritual and political authority of
Khomeini. Recently, he has been gaining strength by using his formal powers to
appoint heads of key institutions, such as the armed forces and half of the twelvemember Council of Guardians.2 This body reviews legislation to ensure it conforms
to Islamic law, and it screens election candidates. Another unelected body dominated
by conservatives is the Expediency Council, set up in 1988 to resolve legislative
disagreements between the Majles (parliament) and the Council of Guardians.
Mohammad Khatemi, Reformists, and Reformist Candidates.
Outgoing president Mohammad Khatemi was first elected in May 1997, with 69%
of the vote. He was re-elected in June 2001, with an even larger 77% of the vote,
against nine conservative candidates. Khatemi remained popular by most accounts,
but he has always been subordinate to the Supreme Leader. Khatemi is a midranking cleric, one rank below Ayatollah. He served as Minister of Culture and
Islamic Guidance in the early 1990s but was dismissed from that post in 1993
because of criticism that he was allowing Western cultural material to receive wider
distribution in Iran. From his dismissal until his election in 1997, he was head of
Iran’s national library. Khatemi has served two consecutive terms and
constitutionally could not run again in the June 2005 presidential election.
Khatemi derived key political support from reformist-oriented students, youths,
and women. Journalists and other observers say these reformist segments have been
increasingly defiant of the hardliners in their dress and other activities, although
observers say there are not overt signs of political rebellion. Khatemi’s supporters
held about 70% of the 290 seats in the 2000-2004 Majles after their victory in the
February 18, 2000 elections. However, pro-reform elements became disillusioned
with Khatemi for his refusal to confront the hardliners. Dissatisfaction with the lack
of major reform erupted in major student demonstrations in July 1999 in which four
students were killed by regime security forces. On June 8, 2003, a time period
marking the fourth anniversary of those riots, regime forces again suppressed proreform demonstrators. Some of the 2003 protesters called for Khatemi to resign for
The Assembly also has the power to amend Iran’s constitution.
The Council of Guardians consists of six Islamic jurists and six secular lawyers. The six
Islamic jurists are appointed by the Supreme Leader. The six lawyers on the Council are
selected by the Majles (parliament).
being ineffective. President Bush issued statements in support of the demonstrators,
although then Secretary of State Powell said the protests represented a “family fight”
within Iran in which the United States should not seek a role. Institutionally,
Khatemi has been supported by reformist organizations (formal “parties” have not
been approved) that tried but failed to elect a reformist in the June 2005 elections:
The Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF). The most prominent and
best organized pro-reform grouping, it is headed by Khatemi’s
brother, Mohammad Reza Khatemi, who was a deputy speaker in the
The student-led Office for Consolidation and Unity. It became
critical of Khatemi for failing to challenge the hardliners. In mid2002, partly in response to criticism by this organization, Khatemi
proposed new legislation that would strengthen the power of his
office; it was passed by the Majles but blocked by the Council of
The Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution organization (MIR). It is
composed mainly of left-leaning Iranian figures who, during the
1980s, sought greater state control of the economy and export of
Iran’s Islamic revolution to other countries in the region.
The Society of Combatant Clerics. A prominent member of this
grouping is Mehdi Karrubi, who was speaker of the 2000-2004
Majles. Karrubi finished third in the June 17, 2005 first round of the
Another reformist candidate in the June 17 elections was former
science minister Mostafa Moin. He was initially disqualified for the
vote by the Council of Guardians, but his candidacy was reinstated
on review. He finished fifth, disappointing reformists who thought
he would at least make it into a runoff.
Vice President (and Minister of Sports) Mohsen Mehralizadeh was
another pro-reform candidate. He was also initially disqualified but
reinstated on review. He finished last.
The Conservatives, Rafsanjani, and Conservative Candidates. Iran’s
conservatives generally want only gradual reform, but, more importantly in the view
of most experts, they want to keep major governing and economic institutions under
the control of members of their faction. The conservatives have tried to unify under
a multi-organization umbrella called the Fundamentalists’ Coordination Council
(FCC). The conservatives, supported by Khamene’i, have been gaining strength
since the February 28, 2003, municipal elections, when reformists failed to turn out
in large numbers and hardliners won most of the seats from Tehran.
The conservatives gained substantial additional strength from the February 20,
2004 Majles elections. In that election, the Council of Guardians disqualified about
3,600 mostly reformist candidates, including 87 members of the current Majles.
Some were prominent, such as deputy speakers Mohammad Reza Khatemi and
Behzad Nabavi. Khatemi’s IIPF grouping boycotted the elections, but some
reformist factions participated. The conservatives won a majority, about 155 out of
the 290 Majles seats. Turnout was about 51%, according to the reformist-controlled
Interior Ministry, signaling that Iranians did not necessarily answer the call of some
reformists not to participate. (Conservative controlled media put the turnout at
about 60%, while some reformists said turnout was only about 35%.) The United
States, most European Union countries, and other governments criticized this
election as unfair . Just before the elections, on February 12, 2004, the Senate passed
by unanimous consent S.Res. 304, expressing the sense of the Senate that the United
States should not support the elections and should advocate “democratic
government” in Iran. After these elections, on February 24, 2004, President Bush
said in a White House statement “I join many in Iran and around the world in
condemning the Iranian regime’s efforts to stifle freedom of speech. I am very
The June 2005 Elections. On the tide of these conservative victories, the
chairman of the Expediency Council, former two-term president (1989-1997) Akbar
Hashemi-Rafsanjani, regained political prominence. He is considered the patron of
many Majles conservatives, although he ran for president again in the June 2005
elections on a pro-business, pro-reform platform. He was constitutionally permitted
to run because a third term would not have been consecutive with his previous two
terms as president.
Rafsanjani had several more conservative opponents, four of whom had ties to
the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC, see below). They included former
Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezai (now Secretary-General of the
Expediency Council); former state broadcasting head Ali Larijani; former
Revolutionary Guard Air Force commander and police chief, Mohammad Baqer
Qalibaf; and Tehran mayor Mahmood Ahmadinejad, who was formerly a commander
in the Guard and the Basij (a volunteer paramilitary organization that enforces
adherence to Islamic customs). In deference to Rafsanjani, some prominent
hardliners did not run: former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati; chief nuclear
negotiator Hassan Ruhani; former Labor Minister Ahmad Tavakkoli, leader of the
“Builders of Islamic Iran” faction, a key bloc in the new Majles; and Majles
speaker, Gholem Ali Haded-Adel.
On May 22, 2005, the Council of Guardians, as expected, significantly narrowed
the field of candidates to 6 out of the 1,014 persons who registered for the election.
(In the 2001 presidential election, the Council permitted to run only 10 out of the 814
registered candidates.) However, at Khamene’i’s request, two reformist candidates
were reinstated. One, Reza’i, dropped out voluntarily before the June 17 first round.
In the June 17, 2005 first round, turnout was about 63% (29.4 million votes out
of 46.7 million eligible voters). The results were as follows:
21% (moved on to run-off)
19.5% (moved on to run-off)
(dropped out before election)
No candidate achieved a majority, forcing a second round. However, the first
round results proved surprising because virtually no experts foresaw the emergence
of Tehran Mayor Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad, who is about 49, campaigned as a
“man of the people,” the son of a blacksmith who continues to live in modest
circumstances, who would promote the interests of the poor and return government
to the principles of the Islamic revolution during the time of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Reformists were disappointed at the relatively poor showing of Moin, who had
been expected by many to finish at least second. Other hardliners were expected to
do better than they did: Larijani had the support of the largest hardline
organizations, and Qalibaf was considered somewhat popular for exercising restraint
during his time as Tehran police chief. Reformist candidate Karrubi and some others
alleged fraud in the first round, and the Council of Guardians ordered a spot-check
of at least 50 ballot boxes, but a consensus emerged that widespread fraud was
unlikely and there was no full-scale investigation. On the eve of the first round,
President Bush criticized the elections as unfair because of the denial of the
candidacies of “popular reformers and women who have done so much for the cause
of freedom and democracy in Iran.”3
The run-off was conducted on June 24, 2005. With his momentum from the
first round, Ahmadinejad won a landslide victory in the run-off, receiving 61.8% of
the vote to Rafsanjani’s 35.7%. Turnout was 47%, less than the first round,
suggesting that reformists did not turn out in large numbers to try to prevent
Ahmadinejad’s election. He becomes the first non-cleric to be president of the
Islamic republic since the assassination of then president Mohammad Ali Rajai in
August 1981. He is to take office on August 3, 2005.
At a news conference after the election, Ahmadinejad appealed for unity and
pledged to build a unity government that includes officials on the reformist side of
the spectrum. He stated that he would continue the nuclear talks with the European
countries (discussed below), although he is believed to lean toward the views of other
hardliners that Iran should not bargain the nuclear program away in talks with the
Europeans. In keeping with his skepticism of relations with the United States, he
made no significant overtures to the United States. At the same time, Ahmadinejad
will face the same constraints from the Supreme Leader and the unelected bodies
discussed above that have been faced by Khatemi, and Ahmadinejad’s ability to
implement major shifts in Iran’s foreign and defense policies are likely limited, if he
envisions such changes. He has also sought to parry allegations that he was one of
the holders of the 52 American hostages during November 1979-January 1981; that
allegation is being investigated by the Bush Administration but has been rebutted by
a number of Iranian and American sources. Another allegation is that he took part
Bush Criticizes Iran Election Process as Unfair. Reuters, June 16, 2005.
in the 1989 assassination in Vienna, Austria of Iranian Kurdish dissident leader Abd
Prominent Dissidents. Several dissidents are outside the political structure,
seeking sweeping change. One such figure, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, was
released in January 2003 from several years of house arrest. He had been Khomeini’s
designated successor until 1989, when Khomeini dismissed him for allegedly
protecting intellectuals and other opponents of clerical rule. He has since remained
under scrutiny by the regime, but in September 2003, he criticized the seizure of the
U.S. Embassy in 1979 as well as the core principle of the revolution: direct
participation in government by the clerics. Other prominent dissidents include exiled
theoretician Abd al-Karim Soroush, former Interior Minister Abdollah Nuri,
imprisoned journalist Akbar Ganji, and political activist Hashem Aghajari (of the
Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution), who was initially sentenced to death for
blasphemy but whose sentence was overturned; he has been released.
Anti-Regime Groups: People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran
(PMOI). Some groups in exile seek the outright replacement of the current regime
with one that is nationalist, secular, or left-wing. One group, which is left-leaning,
is the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI). 4 Even though it is an
opponent of Tehran, since the late 1980s, the State Department has refused contact
with the PMOI and its umbrella organization, the National Council of Resistance
(NCR). The PMOI, formed in the 1960s to try to overthrow the Shah of Iran,
advocated Marxism blended with Islamic tenets. It allied with pro-Khomeini forces
during the Islamic revolution (and supported the November 1979 takeover of the U.S.
Embassy in Tehran) but was later excluded from power and forced into exile. The
State Department designated the PMOI as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) in
October 19975 and the NCR was named as an alias of the PMOI in the October 1999
re-designation. On August 14, 2003, the State Department designated the NCR
offices in the United States an alias of the PMOI and NCR and ordered those
facilities closed. The FTO designation was prompted by PMOI attacks in Iran that
sometimes killed or injured civilians — although the group does not appear to
purposely target civilians — and by its alleged killing of seven American defense
advisers to the former Shah in 1975-1976. In November 2002, a letter signed by
about 150 House Members was released, asking the President to remove the PMOI
from the FTO list. 6
U.S. forces attacked PMOI military installations in Iraq during Operation Iraqi
Freedom and negotiated a ceasefire with PMOI military elements in Iraq, requiring
the approximately 4,000 PMOI fighters to remain confined to their Ashraf camp near
the border with Iran. The group’s weaponry is in storage, guarded by U.S. military
personnel. Press reports continue to say that some Administration officials want the
Other names by which this group is known is the Mojahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MEK
or MKO) and the National Council of Resistance (NCR).
The designation was made under the authority of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-132).
“Removal of Iran Group From Terror List Sought.” Washington Post, November 23, 2002.
group removed from the FTO list and want a U.S. alliance with the group against the
Tehran regime.7 Then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice stated in
November 2003 that the United States is unambiguously treating the group as a
terrorist organization. However, the debate over the group was renewed with the
U.S. decision in late July 2004 to grant the Ashraf detainees “protected persons”
status under the 4th Geneva Convention, meaning they will not be extradited to
Tehran or forcibly expelled as long as U.S. forces remain in Iraq. The PMOI has
used this determination to argue that the group should no longer be designated as an
FTO. In other action against the group, on June 17, 2003, France arrested about 170
PMOI members, including its co-leader Maryam Rajavi (wife of PMOI founder
Masoud Rajavi, who is still based in Iraq.) She was subsequently released and
remains in France.8 Iran said in July 2005 that about 700 members of the group had
returned to Iran in recent months, presumably after recanting their membership.
Pro-Shah Activists/Exile Broadcasts. Some Iranian exiles, as well as
some in Iran, want to replace the regime with a constitutional monarchy presumably
led by the U.S.-based son of the late former Shah. On January 24, 2001, the Shah’s
son, Reza Pahlavi, who is about 54 years old, ended a long period of inactivity by
giving a speech in Washington D.C. calling for unity in opposition to the current
regime as well as the institution of a constitutional monarchy and genuine democracy
in Iran. He has since broadcast messages into Iran from Iranian exile-run stations in
California, and press reports say a growing number of Iranians inside Iran are
listening to his broadcasts, although he is not believed to have a large following
there. 9 Numerous other Iranian exile broadcasts, some not linked to the Shah’s son,
emanate from California, where there is a large Iranian-American community, but no
U.S. assistance is provided to these stations. Then deputy Secretary of State
Armitage testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 28,
2003, that following a request to the Cuban government, the jamming from Cuba of
Iranian exile and U.S. broadcasting to Iran had ceased; the jamming was carried out
by Iranians in Cuba, not the Cuban government, according to Armitage.
Human Rights Record/Crackdowns on Dissent. U.S. officials have not
generally considered Iran’s human rights record as a strategic threat to U.S. interests,
but the Administration has strongly criticized Iran’s human rights record as part of
its effort to pressure Iran. According to testimony on May 19, 2005, by
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, the Bush Administration
has established with European allies and Canada a “Human Rights Working Group”
that will meet quarterly to coordinate a response to Iran’s human rights abuses. A
special U.N. Human Rights Commission monitoring mission for Iran, consisting of
reports by a “Special Representative” on Iran’s human rights record, was conducted
during 1984-2002. Iran has since agreed to “thematic” monitoring consisting of
Cloud, David. “U.S., Iran Hit Bumpy Terrain on Road to Rapprochement.” Wall Street
Journal, May 12, 2003.
For further information, see CRS Report RL31119, Terrorism: Near Eastern Groups and
State Sponsors, 2002.
Kampeas, Ron. “Iran’s Crown Prince Plots Nonviolent Insurrection from Suburban
Washington.” Associated Press, August 26, 2002.
periodic U.N. investigations of specific aspects of Iran’s human rights record. Iran
is a party to the two international covenants on human rights.
The State Department’s human rights report for 2004, released February 28,
2005, said Iran’s already poor human rights record “worsened” during the year. 10 The
U.S. and U.N. human rights reports cite Iran for widespread human rights abuses
(especially of the Baha’i faith), including summary executions, disappearances,
torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention. Since 2000, hardliners in the judiciary
have closed hundreds of reformist newspapers, although many have tended to reopen
under new names, and authorities have imprisoned or questioned several editors and
even some members of the Majles. Press reports from November 2004 say Iran has
also begun blocking hundreds of pro-reform websites. Among major specific themes
and cases are the following.
There was an apparent beating death of a Canadian journalist of
Iranian origin, Zahra Kazemi, while she was in Iranian detention.
She had been detained in early July 2003 for filming outside
Tehran’s Evin prison. The trial of an intelligence agent who
allegedly conducted the beating resulted in an acquittal on July 25,
2004, prompting widespread accusations that the investigation and
trial were not fair. In April 2005, Iran rebuffed a Canadian attempt
to conduct a formal autopsy of Kazemi.
Iran’s hardliners significantly downplayed the naming in October
2003 of Iranian human rights/women’s rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi as
winner of the Nobel Peace prize. In January 2005, a revolutionary
court ordered her to appear; she refused, and the court then backed
down and claimed its summons was an error.
On May 13, 2005, Iran freed a prominent dissident, Abbas Abdi,
who was jailed for the past two years for conducting an opinion poll
on Iranians’ attitudes toward relations with the United States.
Imprisoned journalist Akbar Ganji is conducting a hunger strike to
protest regime oppression. The Bush Administration issued a
statement calling for his release on July 12, 2005.
On the issue of women’s rights, on June 13, 2005, about 250 women
staged the first women’s rights demonstration since the 1979 Islamic
revolution, protesting obligatory veiling, the denial of their
candidacies in the June 2005 presidential elections, and related
practices. On the other hand, women can vote and run in lower level
elections, including the Majles, they can drive, and many work
outside the home, including owning and running their own
businesses. Eleven out of the 290 Majles deputies are women.
For text of the 2004 report on Iran, see [http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2004/
These rights mean that women are freer than in some nearby states
such as Saudi Arabia.
U.S. reports and officials continue to cite Iran for religious
persecution. Since March 1999, the State Department has named
Iran as a “Country of Particular Concern,” each year under the
International Religious Freedom Act, and no improvement in Iran’s
practices on this issue was noted in the International Religious
Freedom report for 2004, released September 15, 2004. No
sanctions have been added because of this designation, on the
grounds that Iran is already subject to extensive U.S. sanctions.
Iran is repeatedly cited for repression of the Baha’i community,
which Iran’s Shiite Muslim clergy views as a heretical sect. Two
Baha’is (Dhabihullah Mahrami and Musa Talibi) were sentenced to
death in 1996 for apostasy. On July 21, 1998, Iran executed
Ruhollah Ruhani, the first Bahai executed since 1992 (Bahman
Samandari). In February 2000, Iran’s Supreme Court set aside the
death sentences against three other Baha’is. Several congressional
resolutions have condemned Iran’s treatment of the Baha’is,
including S.Con.Res. 57 (106th Congress), which passed the Senate
July 19, 2000, and H.Con.Res. 257, which passed the House on
September 19, 2000. In the 108th Congress, a proposed H.Con.Res.
319 contained a sense of Congress on the Baha’is similar to that in
On the treatment of Jews, the 30,000-member Jewish community
(the largest in the Middle East aside from Israel) enjoys more
freedoms than Jewish communities in several other Muslim states.
However, during 1993-1998, Iran executed five Jews allegedly
spying for Israel. In June 1999, Iran arrested 13 Jews (mostly
teachers, shopkeepers, and butchers) from the Shiraz area that it
said were part of an “espionage ring” for Israel. After an April June 2000 trial, ten of the Jews and two Muslims accomplices were
convicted (July 1, 2000), receiving sentences ranging from 4 to 13
years. A three-judge appeals panel reduced the sentences, and the
releases began in January 2001; the last five were freed in April
Iran’s Strategic Capabilities and Weapons of
Mass Destruction Programs
For the past two decades, the United States has sought to contain the strategic
threat posed by Iran’s WMD programs. Iran, which modernized with Russian
supplied combat aircraft and tanks and Chinese-supplied naval craft in the mid1990s, still is not considered a major conventional threat to the United States.
However, some of its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs, particularly
its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, have made significant progress and could
potentially put U.S. allies and forces at risk.
Iran’s armed forces total about 550,000 personnel, including both the regular
military and the Revolutionary Guard. The latter is generally loyal to the hardliners
and, according to some recent analysis, is becoming more assertive in political
decisions as government leaders have become more dependent on it to maintain
control. In mid-2004, Guard personnel closed part of a new airport in Tehran when
the government chose a foreign (Turkish) contractor to run the airport.
Iran’s ground forces are likely sufficient to deter or fend off conventional
threats from Iran’s relatively weak neighbors such as post-war Iraq, Turkmenistan,
Azerbaijan, and Afghanistan. Iran has avoided cause for conflict with its more
militarily capable neighbors such as Turkey and Pakistan. In early 2005, Commander
of U.S. Central Command Gen. John Abizaid and head of the Defense Intelligence
Agency Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby both said that Iran had recently acquired some
new capability (indigenously produced anti-ship missiles, and North Korean-supplied
torpedo and missile boats) to block the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian
Gulf briefly, or to threaten the flow of oil through that waterway. 11 Russia reportedly
is in talks to upgrade Iran’s three Kilo-class submarines with “Club-S” (120 mile
range) anti-ship missiles. 12 However, Iran is largely lacking in logistical ability to
project power much beyond its borders. No major military tensions are currently
evident between Iran and U.S. military forces in the Persian Gulf region, and U.S.
military officials say that their encounters with Iranian naval vessels in the Gulf are
Iran’s conventional capabilities have concerned successive U.S. Administrations
far less than have Iran’s attempts to acquire WMD. Partly because of recent
acceleration of some of Iran’s WMD programs, particularly its nuclear program,
President Bush, in his January 29, 2002 State of the Union message, labeled Iran part
of an “axis of evil” along with Iraq and North Korea.
Iran — and virtually all Iranian factions appear to agree on the utility of WMD
— appears to see WMD, particularly the acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability,
as a means of ending its perceived historic vulnerability to U.S. domination, or as a
symbol of Iran’s perception of itself as a major nation. Some see Iran’s WMD
programs as an instrument for Iran to dominate the Persian Gulf region. There are
also fears Iran might transfer WMD to some of the extremist groups it supports, such
as Lebanese Hizbollah, although there is no evidence to date that Iran has taken any
steps in that direction. Iran’s programs continue to be assisted primarily by entities
in Russia, China, and North Korea. 13
Nuclear Program. 14 Some observers believe a crisis between Iran and the
international community over Iran’s perceived nuclear ambitions is likely. The Bush
Jacoby testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. February 16, 2005.
Pronina, Lyuba. Paper: Iran In Talks to Refurbish Subs. Moscow Times, July 5, 2005.
For further information, see CRS Report RL30551, Iran: Arms and Weapons of Mass
For further information, see CRS Report RS21592, Iran’s Nuclear Program: Recent
Administration publicly supports an effort by France, Britain, and Germany (the
“EU-3”) to negotiate curbs on Iran’s program, although the Administration is
uncertain that the EU-3 approach will succeed. The Bush Administration and the
U.S. intelligence community15 assert that Iran is determined to achieve a nuclear
weapons capability and that, despite insisting its nuclear program is for only peaceful
purposes, it has not upheld its obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT). On June 18, 2003, President Bush was quoted by press reports as
stating that the United States would “not tolerate construction” of a nuclear weapon
by Iran. Iranian leaders, including president-elect Ahmadinejad, say uranium
enrichment is allowed under the NPT and that Iran will not give up the “right” to
There is disagreement over the urgency of the issue. IAEA director Mohammad
El Baradei continues to assert that the IAEA has not concluded Iran is trying to
develop a nuclear weapon , although the IAEA said in November 2003 that Iran had
failed to meet its reporting obligations under its Safeguards agreement with the
IAEA. In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on February 16, 2005,
DIA head Adm. Jacoby (see above) said that, “Unless constrained by a nuclear nonproliferation agreement, Tehran probably will have the ability to produce nuclear
weapons early in the next decade.” However, Israeli experts are said to believe that
Iran might reach “the point of no return,” the point at which Iran would have the
technical capability to construct a nuclear weapon, later in 2005.16
The international suspicions of Iran’s intentions gained urgency in December
2002, when Iran confirmed PMOI allegations that it was building two additional
facilities, at Arak and Natanz, that could be used to produce fissile material that could
be used for a nuclear weapon. (Natanz could produce enriched uranium and the Arak
facility reportedly is a heavy water production plant; heavy water is used in a reactor
that is considered ideal for the production of plutonium.) During most of 2003, Iran
refused to sign the “Additional Protocol” to the NPT, which would allow for
enhanced inspections, although it did modify its Safeguards agreement to provide
advanced notice of new nuclear facilities construction. It was also revealed in 2003
that the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, Abdul Qadeer (A.Q.) Khan,
sold Iran and other countries (Libya, North Korea) nuclear technology and designs.
In March 2005, Pakistani officials said that Khan had provided unauthorized
assistance, including centrifuges that could be used to enrich uranium, to Iran during
the 1980s. 17 In February 2004, Khan publicly admitted selling nuclear technology to
Iran, Libya, and North Korea.
At the same time, Russia, despite its own growing concerns about Iran’s
intentions, continued work on an $800 million nuclear power plant at Bushehr, under
The Central Intelligence Agency, in an unclassified report to Congress covering July 1,
2003 - December 31, 2003, says the “United States remains convinced that Tehran has been
pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons program...”
Weisman, Steven. “Sharon, Ending U.S. Visit, Says Israel Has No Plan to Hit Iran.” New
York Times, April 14, 2005.
Lancaster, John and Kamran Khan. “Pakistanis Say Nuclear Scientists Aided Iran.”
Washington Post, January 24, 2004.
a January 1995 contract. Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency said in October
2004 that the reactor was essentially complete, but Russia insisted that Iran sign an
agreement under which Russia would provide reprocess the plant’s spent nuclear
material; after many delays, that agreement was signed on February 28, 2005. Russia
is to begin delivering fuel to it by fall of 2005, and the power plant is expected to
become operational in late 2006. There are concerns that the plant could give Iran
additional technologies for a weapons program (plutonium, for example), but the
Russia-Iran reprocessing deal also adds safeguards that could slow an Iranian
weapons program. Iran wants to have 20 more nuclear power plants built, including
possibly six built by Russia.
European Diplomatic Efforts/Agreement One.
engagement might yield progress, beginning in 2003 , the foreign ministers of
Germany, France, and Britain (the “EU-3”) undertook diplomacy to limit Iran’s
nuclear program. On October 21, 2003, the EU-3 and Iran issued a joint statement
in which Iran pledged, in return for promises of future exports of peaceful nuclear
technology, to fully disclose all aspects of its past nuclear activities ; to sign and ratify
the Additional Protocol ; and to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment activities.
Iran signed the Additional Protocol on December 18, 2003, and the IAEA says Iran
is largely abiding by its provisions, although the Majles has not yet ratified it.
However, the agreement deteriorated as it became clear that the international
community would maintain strict scrutiny of Iran. Iran particularly objected to the
findings of the November 10, 2003 and February 24, 2004 IAEA reports that Iran
had committed violations of its obligations over an 18-year period; that traces of both
highly enriched and low-enriched uranium had been found at two sites in Iran; 18 and
that the Iranian military had been involved in manufacturing centrifuge equipment.
In July 2004 Iran broke the IAEA’s seals on some of its nuclear centrifuges,
essentially scuttling the deal.
Subsequently, the IAEA said in September 2004 that Iran was preparing to
convert 37 tons of uranium (“yellowcake”) into uranium tetraflouride gas as a step
toward making enriched uranium. 19 (In May 2005, Iran confirmed that it had done
that conversion. ) The breakdown of the 2003 agreement caused the Bush
Administration to argue for referring the issue to the U.N. Security Council for the
possible imposition of international sanctions.
European Diplomatic Efforts/Agreement Two. In the face of the U.S.
threat to push for a Security Council referral, the EU-3 sought Bush Administration
backing for another diplomatic overture to Iran. The EU-3 held out for Iran a
possible “grand bargain” in which Iran would forgo uranium enrichment in exchange
for broad diplomatic engagement with Iran (resumed talks on an Iran-EU trade
agreement, support for Iran’s entry into the World Trade Organization, and counternarcotics assistance) and assistance to the purely peaceful aspects of Iran’s nuclear
Murphy, Francois. “U.N. Watchdog Accuses Iran of Unanswered Questions.” Reuters,
February 25, 2004.
Nuclear experts say that could, in theory, be sufficient to yield as many as five nuclear
program (heavy water reactor, nuclear fuel). 20 The EU-3 conditioned the talks on
Iran’s suspension of all uranium enrichment activity. On November 14, 2004, Iran
appeared to meet most European demands by agreeing to a rapid (as of November
22), verifiable suspension of uranium enrichment, to remain in place until a
permanent agreement is reached. An IAEA board resolution, adopted November 28,
2004, did not threaten to refer the issue to the Security Council.
Since then, there have been some accusations that Iran is not complying with its
terms. According to the Administration and the IAEA, Iran has limited IAEA access
to two secret Iranian military sites, including the large Parchin complex, where
suspected nuclear access might be taking place. IAEA inspectors visited the site in
January 2005, but Iran has not allowed visits subsequently. Iran is also alleged to
have withheld information and conducted maintenance and other work on centrifuge
equipment and uranium conversion activities. It is also beginning construction of a
heavy water research reactor, which would be well suited to plutonium production.
Concluding its meeting on March 2, 2005, the IAEA issued a statement that was less
critical of Iran than previous IAEA statements or resolutions, but called on Iran to
provide pro-active cooperation. IAEA deputy chief Pierre Goldschmidt said on June
15, 2005, that Iran had recently admitted to experimenting with producing plutonium
in 1998, five years later than Iran had previously acknowledged, constituting an
additional breach of Iran’s NPT obligations.
Status of the Talks. EU-3 - Iran negotiations on a permanent nuclear
agreement formally began on December 13, 2004 and continued in Geneva in March
2005. (Related EU-Iran talks on a trade and cooperation accord began in January
2005. The EU-3 nuclear talks also include “working groups” discussing “security”
issues and economic cooperation.) On March 11, 2005, the Administration
announced it would support the European talks with Iran (see below) by offering
some economic incentives to Iran. The incentives included dropping U.S. objections
to Iran’s application to the World Trade Organization, WTO) and facilitating sales
of U.S. civilian aircraft parts to Iran. The Administration decided not to actually join
the talks. It did drop its opposition to Iran’s WTO application in late May 2005,
paving the way for Iran to begin accession talks.
President-elect Ahmadinejad has said he will continue the talks, although there
are reports he might replace the lead negotiator, Hassan Ruhani, with Ali Larijani,
considered more hardline. Since the election, Iranian negotiators have said Iran
might resume uranium conversion or enrichment if the EU-3 do not accept an
Iranian proposal that it be allowed to retain a research uranium enrichment
capability (3,000 centrifuges). The United States is said to believe that Iran could use
even a small enrichment program to work toward a nuclear weapons capability.
Another Iranian proposal is for the West to provide Iran with 6 nuclear reactors. At
a ministerial meeting in Geneva on May 25, 2005, the EU-3 promised to present Iran,
by August 1, 2005, with a roadmap to achieve the permanent agreement under
discussion, although there are some indications the EU-3 presentation might slip until
Ahmadinejad clarifies his foreign policy. Press reports about the likely EU-3 plan
Weisman, Steven. “U.S. In Talks With Europeans on a Nuclear Deal With Iran.” New
York Times, October 12, 2004.
include offering to assist Iran with peaceful uses of nuclear energy in medicine,
agriculture, and other civilian uses, as well as security guarantees. The latter would
likely have to be formulated in concert with the United States, the only country
positioned to assure Iran of its security. The EU-3, for their part, have threatened to
support referral to the Security Council if Iran follows through on its threats to
resume uranium conversion or enrichment, and there are no public indications that
the EU-3 would accept an agreement that allows Iran to enrich uranium. However,
some observers believe the EU-3 might give some ground on that issue.
Recent Congressional Action. Congress has approved legislation
supporting international sanctions (and other measures) to prevent Iran from
becoming a nuclear state. In the 108th Congress, a resolution, H.Con.Res. 398,
passed the House on May 6, 2004, by a vote of 376-13. It called for the international
community to use “all appropriate means to deter, dissuade, and prevent Iran from
acquiring nuclear weapons, including ending all nuclear and other cooperation with
Iran....” In the 109th Congress, a provision of a House-passed U.N. reform bill (H.R.
2745) calls on the United States to vote to ban the provision of peaceful nuclear
technology to Iran unless the President certifies Iran is not enriching uranium (or
committing other NPT violations). A similar provision is contained in the Housepassed State Department authorization bill FY2006 and 2007 (H.R. 2601), which
also would penalize countries that provide nuclear technology to Iran, unless Iran is
deemed in full compliance with all its NPT obligations.
Chemical and Biological Weapons. Official U.S. reports and testimony,
particularly the semi-annual CIA reports to Congress on WMD acquisitions
worldwide, continue to state that Iran is seeking a self-sufficient chemical weapons
(CW) infrastructure, and that it “may have already” stockpiled blister, blood,
choking, and nerve agents — and the bombs and shells to deliver them. This raises
questions about Iran’s compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons
Convention (CWC), which Iran signed on January 13, 1993, and ratified on June 8,
1997. Recent CIA reports to Congress say Iran “probably maintain[s] an offensive
[biological weapons] BW program... and probably has the capability to produce at
least small quantities of BW agents. 21
Missiles.22 Largely with foreign help, Iran is becoming self sufficient in the
production of ballistic missiles.
Shahab-3. Two of its first three tests of the 800-mile range Shahab3 (July 1998, July 2000, and September 2000) reportedly were
inconclusive or unsuccessful, but Iran conducted an apparently
successful series of tests in June 2003. Iran subsequently called the
Shahab-3, which would be capable of hitting Israel, operational and
in production, and Iran formally delivered several of them to the
Revolutionary Guard. Iran publicly displayed six Shahab-3 missiles
“Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons
of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 July Through 31 December
See CRS Report RS21548, Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities.
in a parade on September 22, 2003. Despite Iran’s claims, U.S.
experts say the missile is not completely reliable, and Iran tested a
“new” [purportedly more accurate] version of it on August 12, 2004.
Iran called the test successful, although some observers said Iran
detonated the missile in mid-flight, raising questions about the
success of the test. On November 17, 2004, then Secretary of State
Powell said there is some information that Iran might be working to
adapt that missile to carry a nuclear warhead. 23
Shahab-4. In October 2004, Iran announced it had succeeded in
extending the range of the Shahab-3 to 1,200 miles, and it added in
early November 2004 that it is capable of “mass producing” this
longer-range missile, which Iran calls the Shahab-4. If Iran has
made this missile operational with the capabilities Iran claims, large
portions of the Near East and Southeastern Europe would be in
range, including U.S. bases in Turkey. Iran’s new claims would
appear to represent an abrogation of its pledge in November 7, 2003,
to abandon development of a 1,200 mile range missile. On May 31,
2005, Iran announced it had successfully tested a solid-fuel version
of the Shahab-3. The PMOI asserts Iran is secretly developing an
even longer range missile, 1,500 miles, with the help of North
Korean scientists. 24
ICBM. Iran’s asserted progress on missiles would appear to
reinforce the concerns of the U.S. intelligence community. In
February 2005, DIA Director Jacoby testified that Iran might be
capable of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015, 25
but that it was not yet clear whether Iran has decided to field such a
Other Missiles. On September 6, 2002, Iran said it successfully
tested a 200 mile range “Fateh 110” missile (solid propellent), and
Iran said in late September 2002 that it had begun production of the
missile. 26 On March 18, 2005, the London Financial Times reported
that Ukraine has admitting 12 “X-55” cruise missiles to Iran in 2001;
the missiles are said to have a range of about 1,800 miles. Iran also
possesses a few hundred short-range ballistic missiles, including the
Shahab-1 (Scud-b), the Shahab-2 (Scud-C), and the Tondar-69
Wright, Robin and Keith Richburg. Powell Says Iran is Pursuing Bomb. Washington
Post, November 18, 2004.
Jehl, Douglas. “Iran Reportedly Hides Work On a Longer-Range Missile,” New York
Times, December 2, 2004
“Greater U.S. Concern About Iran Missile Capability.” Reuters, March 11, 2002.
“Iran: New Missile on the Assembly Line.” New York Times, September 26, 2002.
Foreign Policy and Support for Terrorism
Iran’s support for terrorist groups has long concerned U.S. Administrations,
particularly since doing so gives Tehran an opportunity to try to obstruct the U.S.-led
Middle East peace process. Tehran contends that the Arab-Israeli peace process is
inherently weighted toward Israel, a U.S. ally, and cannot result in a fair outcome for
the Palestinians. The State Department report on international terrorism for 2004,
released April 23, 2005, again stated, as it has for most of the past decade, that Iran
“remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2004,” although the report
again attributes the terrorist activity to two hardline institutions: the Revolutionary
Guard and the Intelligence Ministry. 27 Iran has been repeatedly accused of providing
funding, weapons, and training to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hizbollah, and
the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC). In
addition to these terrorist groups, the new report adds a non-Islamist Palestinian
group: the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades. (All are named as foreign terrorist
organizations (FTO) by the State Department.) Some other reports say that Iranian
hardline factions have launched new recruiting drives in Iran and elsewhere,
including in Africa, for potential terrorists.28
Analysts see Iran’s support for terrorist groups as one element in a broader
foreign policy.29 Its policy is a product of the ideology of Iran’s Islamic revolution,
blended with and sometimes tempered by longstanding national interests that predate
the Islamic revolution. Iran has tried to establish relatively normal relations with
most of its neighbors, but, in its relations with some neighbors it has tried to actively
influence internal events by promoting minority or anti-establishment factions.
Persian Gulf States.30 During the 1980s and early 1990s, according to U.S.
officials and outside experts, Iran sponsored Shiite Muslim extremist groups opposed
to the monarchy states of the 6-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC; Saudi
Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates). These
activities appeared to represent an effort by Iran to structure the Gulf region to its
advantage by “exporting” its Islamic revolution. However, Iran’s efforts were
unsuccessful, and led the Gulf states to ally closely with the United States to confront
Iran. By the mid-1990s, Iran began to shift more away from confrontation with the
Gulf states by ending support for Shiite dissident movements there, a shift that
accelerated after the election of Khatemi. Some believe it possible that presidentelect Ahmadinejad, who is associated with the Revolutionary Guard and other
hardline institutions, might shift back to a more confrontational stand toward the
U.S. Department of State. Patterns of Global Terrorism:2002. Released April 2003,
Militant Recruiters Out in Open in Tehran. Washington Times, December 16, 2004.
Kemp, Geoffrey. Forever Enemies? American Policy and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1994. Pp. 82-88.
See CRS Report RL31533, The Persian Gulf States: Issues for U.S. Policy, 2004.
Saudi Arabia. Many observers closely watch the relationship
between Iran and Saudi Arabia as an indicator of Iran’s overall
posture in the Gulf. During the 1980s, Iran sponsored disruptive
demonstrations at annual Hajj pilgrimages in Mecca, some of which
were violent, and Iran sponsored Saudi Shiite dissident movements.
Iran and Saudi Arabia restored relations in December 1991 (after a
four-year break), and progressed to high-level contacts during
Khatemi’s presidency. In May 1999, Khatemi became the first
senior Iranian leader to visit Saudi Arabia since the Islamic
revolution; he visited again on September 11, 2002. (Supreme
Leader Khamene’i has been invited to as well but has not done so.)
The exchanges suggest that Saudi Arabia has tried to move beyond
the issue of the June 25, 1996, Khobar Towers housing complex
bombing, which killed 19 U.S. airmen, and was believed by some to
have been orchestrated by Iranian agents.31
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has considered the Islamic regime
of Iran aggressive since April 1992, when Iran asserted complete
control of the Persian Gulf island of Abu Musa, which it and the
UAE shared under a 1971 bilateral agreement. (In 1971, Iran, then
ruled by the U.S.-backed Shah, seized two other islands, Greater and
Lesser Tunb, from the emirate of Ras al-Khaymah, as well as part of
Abu Musa from the emirate of Sharjah.) The UAE wants to refer the
dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), but Iran insists on
resolving the issue bilaterally. In concert with Iran’s reduction of
support for Gulf dissident movements, the UAE has not pressed the
issue vigorously in several years, although the UAE still insists the
islands dispute be kept on the agenda of the U.N. Security Council
(which it has been since December 1971). The United States, which
is concerned about Iran’s military control over the islands, supports
UAE proposals but takes no position on sovereignty.
Qatar is wary that Iran might seek to encroach on its large North
Field (natural gas), which it shares with Iran (the Iranian side is
called South Pars). The North field is in operation and produces
natural gas for export; Iran is developing its side of the field as well.
Qatar’s fears were heightened on April 26, 2004, when Iran’s deputy
Oil Minister said that Qatar is probably producing more gas than
“her right share” from the field and that Iran “will not allow” its
wealth to be used by others.
Walsh, Elsa. “Annals of Politics: Louis Freeh’s Last Case.” The New Yorker, May 14,
2001. The June 21, 2001 federal grand jury indictments of 14 suspects (13 Saudis and a
Lebanese citizen) in the Khobar bombing indicate that Iranian agents may have been
involved, but no indictments of any Iranians were announced. In June 2002, Saudi Arabia
reportedly sentenced some of the eleven Saudi suspects held there. The 9/11 Commission
final report asserts that Al Qaeda might have had some as yet undetermined involvement
in the Khobar Towers attacks.
In 1981 and again in 1996, Bahrain officially and publicly accused
Iran of supporting Bahraini Shiite dissidents (the Islamic Front for
the Liberation of Bahrain, Bahrain-Hizbollah, and other Bahraini
dissident groups) in efforts to overthrow the ruling Al Khalifa
family. Bahrain is about 60% Shiite, but its government is
dominated by the Al Khalifa and other Sunni associates. Tensions
have eased substantially during Khatemi’s presidency, but Bahraini
leaders remain wary that Tehran might again support Shiite unrest
that rocked Bahrain during 1994-1998.
Iraq. The U.S. military ousting of Saddam Hussein appears to have benefitted
Iran strategically. Iran publicly opposed the major U.S. military offensive against
Iraq on the grounds that it was not authorized by the United Nations, but many
observers believe Iran wanted Saddam Hussein (a Sunni Muslim) removed, and the
way cleared for the ascendancy of Iraq’s Shiites to power in Iraq.32 The main thrust
of Iran’s strategy in Iraq has been to persuade all Shiite Islamist factions in Iraq to
work together to ensure Shiite Muslim dominance of post-Saddam Iraq. That
strategy bore fruit with victory a Shiite Islamist bloc (“United Iraqi Alliance”) in
the January 30, 2005 National Assembly elections in Iraq. That bloc, which won 140
of the 275 Assembly seats, includes all of Iran’s Shiite Islamist proteges in Iraq,
particularly the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the
most pro-Iranian of these groups, and the Da’wa (Islamic Call) party. SCIRI is led
by Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the younger brother of Ayatollah Mohammad Baqr alHakim, the late Ayatollah Khomeini’s choice to head an Islamic republic in Iraq, who
was killed in a car bombing in Najaf on August 29, 2003. The new Prime Minister
of Iraq is Da’wa’s leader Ibrahim al-Jafari.
Iranian leaders have also cultivated ties to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the
75-year-old Iranian-born Shiite cleric who is de-facto leader of the mainstream Shiite
political bloc. However, Sistani has differed with Iran’s doctrine of direct clerical
involvement in government. The leading figures in the Iraqi Shiite bloc have said
they will not seek to establish an Iranian-style theocratic regime, although some of
them have said Islam should be a major factor in post-Saddam Iraq.
Iran showcased its growing influence in Iraq with a three-day visit (May 17-19,
2005) by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. During the visit, he met not only
with Prime Minister Jafari but also with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (see below)
and Hakim. At the end of the visit, the two countries issued a joint communique in
which Iraq essentially took responsibility for starting the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war and
indirectly blamed Saddam Hussein for ordering the use of chemical weapons against
Iranian forces during that conflict. The joint statement also condemned Israel and
said Iran would open new consulates in Basra and Karbala (two major cities in Iraq’s
mostly Shiite south). Prime Minister Jafari visited in July 2005, following the
signing of a military cooperation agreement between the two countries. At the end
of that visit, Iran offered Iraq a $1 billion credit line .
“Iran’s Kharrazi Hopes for Shiite Role in Iraq.” Reuters, April 9, 2003.
U.S. officials cite Iran for more ominous interference in Iraq. On September 8,
2004, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld accused Iran of sending money and fighters to
proteges in Iraq,33 an assertion reiterated by CIA Director Porter Goss in March 17,
2005 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. U.S. officials have
declined to contradict speculation that Iran is also giving some backing (money and
possibly arms and tactical military advice) to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose
“Mahdi Army” militia staged two major uprisings against U.S. and Iraqi forces
(April and August 2004).34 Most Iranian officials have sought to persuade Sadr to
enter the legitimate political process, but some Iranian hardliners are said to prefer
Sadr as a more anti-U.S. Shiite alternative in Iraq. Iran reportedly might be using its
influence in Iraq to develop sources of information on U.S. operations in Iraq.
Unconfirmed press reports say Iraqi political figure Ahmad Chalabi gave his Iranian
contacts information on U.S. acquisition of Iranian intelligence codes.35
Some Iranian conventional military moves at the border could reflect Iranian
opposition to U.S.-led coalition operations in Iraq. On June 21, 2004, Iran seized
eight British seamen on a mission in the waterway between Iran and southern Iraq.
Iran released the British personnel after a few days’ detention, although Britain says
Iran had steered the British personnel into Iranian waters. Other minor altercations
have occurred with Australian forces, and Iranian naval elements have sometimes
crossed into Iraqi waters, according to U.S. military officials in the Persian Gulf.36
Some commentators say Iran will not exercise substantial influence in Iraq over
the long term. They note that most Iraqi Shiites generally stayed loyal to the Iraqi
regime during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, which took nearly 1 million Iranian lives
and about half that many Iraqi battlefield deaths. Most Iraqi Shiites appear not to
want a cleric-run Islamic regime. Although exchanges of prisoners and remains
from the Iran-Iraq war are mostly completed, Iran has not returned the 125 military
and civilian aircraft flown to Iran at the start of the 1991 Gulf war, even though postSaddam Iraqi politicians have said they want the aircraft returned. Territorial issues
are mostly resolved as a result of an October 2000 agreement to abide by the
waterway-sharing and other provisions of their 1975 Algiers Accords. (Iraq
abrogated that agreement prior to its September 1980 invasion of Iran.) During the
1990s, Iran’s naval forces did sometimes cooperate with Saddam Hussein’s illicit
export of oil through the Gulf, in exchange for substantial “protection fees.”
Supporting Anti-Peace Process Groups. Many of the U.S. concerns
about Iran’s support for terrorism center on its reported material assistance (funds,
advice, and some weaponry) to groups opposed to the Arab-Israeli peace process, the
Scarborough, Rowan. “Rumsfeld: Iran Aids Rebels.” Washington Times, September 8,
Wong, Edward. “Iran Is In Strong Position to Steer Iraq’s Political Future.” New York
Times, July 3, 2004.
Risen, James and David Johnston. “Chalabi Reportedly Told Iran That U.S. Had Code.”
New York Times, June 2, 2004.
CRS conversations with U.S. Fifth Fleet commander, Vice Admiral Nickels, in Bahrain,
groups cited as receiving Iranian assistance by the April 2005 State Department
report on terrorism (see above). U.S. State Department terrorism reports since 2002
have said that Iran has been encouraging coordination among Palestinian terrorist
groups, particularly Hamas and PIJ, since the September 2000 Palestinian uprising.
Iran also has sometimes openly incited anti-Israel violence, including hosting
conferences of anti-peace process organizations (April 24, 2001, and June 2-3,
2002). In January 2002, according to U.S. and Israeli officials, Iran made a shipment,
intercepted by Israel, of 50 tons of arms bought by the Palestinian Authority (PA).
This action surprised many observers because Iran has traditionally had few ties to
the non-Islamist Palestinian organizations.
On the other hand, there appear to be differences within Iran’s leadership on
Iran’s policy toward the peace process. Khamene’i has continued to call Israel a
“cancerous tumor” and make other statements suggesting that he seeks Israel’s
destruction. Khatemi, while publicly pledging support for the anti-peace process
groups, sometimes tried to moderate Iran’s position somewhat. The position of the
Iranian Foreign Ministry, considered an institutional ally of reformists, is that Iran
would not seek to block any final, two-state Israeli-Palestinian settlement.
Iran severed ties to Egypt after that country’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel. In
January 2004, Iran said it was close to agreement to restore full diplomatic ties with
Egypt, and that it was going to meet an Egyptian demand to rename a Tehran street
that is named after Khalid Islambouli, lead assassin of Anwar as-Sadat. However,
diplomatic relations have not been restored to date.
Lebanese Hizballah. Iran maintains a close relationship with Lebanese
Hizballah, a Shiite Islamist group, formed in 1982 by Lebanese Shiite clerics
sympathetic to Iran’s Islamic revolution and responsible for several acts of anti-U.S.
and anti-Israel terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s.37 Hizballah maintains military
forces along the border and operates outside Lebanese government control, even
though the United Nations has certified that Israel had completed its withdrawal from
southern Lebanon (May 2000). Hizballah asserts the withdrawal was incomplete and
that Israel still occupies small tracts of Lebanese territory (Shebaa Farms). A small
number (less than 50, according to a Washington Post report of April 13, 2005) of
Iranian Revolutionary Guards reportedly remain in Lebanon to coordinate Iranian
arms deliveries to Hizballah; the arms are offloaded in Damascus and trucked into
Lebanon.38 The reported shipments have included Stingers obtained by Iran in
Afghanistan, mortars that can reach the Israeli city of Haifa if fired from southern
Lebanon, and, in 2002, over 8,000 Katyusha rockets, according to Israeli leaders.39
The State Department report on terrorism for 2004 (released April 2005) says Iran
Hizballah’s last known terrorist attacks outside Lebanon was the July 18, 1994 bombing
of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85. On March 11, 2003, an
Argentinian judge issued arrest warrants for four Iranian diplomats, including former
Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian, for alleged complicity in the attack. Hizballah is also
believed to have committed the March 17, 1992 bombing of Israel’s embassy in that city.
Wright, Robin. “U.S. Blocks A Key Iran Arms Route to Mideast.” Los Angeles Times,
May 6, 2001.
“Israel’s Peres Says Iran Arming Hizbollah.” Reuters, February 4, 2002.
supplied Hizballah with the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), called the Mirsad, that
Hizballah briefly flew over the border with Israel on November 7, 2004 (and on April
11, 2005). There have been several press reports in 2004 and 2005 that Hizballah is
assisting Hamas and PIJ plan attacks in Israel, even though Hizballah’s main focus
is on Lebanon.
Although Hizballah refuses to give up its militia force, a move required by U.N.
Security Council Resolution 1559, it apparently is evolving into more of a political
movement in Lebanon. In March 2005, Hizballah organized a huge demonstration
against U.S. and other international pressure on Syria to completely withdraw from
Lebanon, although Syria did subsequently withdraw its military (and intelligence)
forces. After the completion of Lebanese parliamentary elections during May - June
2005, Hizballah has expanded its presence in the Lebanese parliament; it and its ally,
the Shiite movement Amal, now hold 35 total seats in the 128-seat parliament. Of
these, 14 seats are Hizballah members themselves. As a result of this showing, one
Hizballah member has been given a cabinet seat (Mohammad Fneish, Minister of
Energy and Water Resources) in the new Lebanese government. This positions
Hizballah to exert greater influence on Lebanese government decisions and to resist
disarmament. Despite Hizballah’s record of attacks on U.S. forces and citizens in
Lebanon during the 1980s, President Bush indicated, in comments to journalists in
March 2005, that the United States might accept Hizballah as a legitimate political
force in Lebanon if it disarms. In the 109th Congress, two similar resolutions (H.Res.
101 and S.Res. 82) have passed their respective chamber. The resolutions urge the
EU to classify Hizballah as a terrorist organization and call on Hizballah to disband
its militia as called for in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 (September 2,
2004). The House-passed State Department authorization bill (H.R. 2601) contains
provisions calling on the Bush Administration to help the Lebanese government
disarm Hizballah and threatening the withholding of U.S. aid to Lebanon if it does
not disarm Hizballah.
Relations With Central Asia and the Caspian. Iran’s policy in Central
Asia has thus far emphasized economic cooperation over Islamic ideology, although
it has sometimes become assertive in the region, particularly against Azerbaijan.
That country’s population, like Iran’s, is mostly Shiite Muslim, but Azerbaijan has
been ruled by secular leaders. In early 1992, Iran led the drive to bring the Central
Asian states and Azerbaijan into the Economic Cooperation Organization.40 Iran
reportedly hosts at least one anti-Azerbaijan guerrilla leader (Hasan Javadov). In
July 2001, Iranian warships and combat aircraft threatened a British Petroleum (BP)
ship on contract to Azerbaijan out of an area of the Caspian Iran considers its own.
The United States called that action provocative, and it offered new border security
aid and increased political support to Azerbaijan. Iran and Armenia, an adversary of
Azerbaijan, agreed on expanded defense cooperation in early March 2002. IranAzerbaijan tensions eased somewhat in conjunction with the mid-May 2002 visit by
Azerbaijan’s then President Heydar Aliyev, but there was little evident progress on
a bilateral division of their portions of the Caspian. Strains will likely increase now
The ECO was founded in 1985 by Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey, as a successor to an
organization founded by those states in 1964.
that the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, intended to reduce Western dependence on
Iranian oil, is set to begin operations (see below).
Afghanistan/Al Qaeda.41 Iran long opposed the puritanical Sunni Muslim
regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan on the grounds that it oppressed Shiite Muslim
and other Persian-speaking minorities , and Iran is exercising some influence over
post-Taliban Afghanistan. Iran tacitly supported the U.S.-led war on the Taliban and
Al Qaeda by offering the United States search and rescue of any downed servicepersons and the transshipment to Afghanistan of humanitarian assistance. Iran has
since moved to restore Iran’s traditional sway in western, central, and northern
Afghanistan where Persian-speaking Afghans predominate. Iran has expressed major
objections to the U.S. use of Shindand air base in western Afghanistan, fearing it
is being used to conduct surveillance on Iran. U.S. aircraft began using the base in
September 2004 in connection with the downfall of local Afghan strongman Ismail
Khan, who was Herat province governor and who previously had controlled the base.
Suggesting it wants good relations with Afghanistan’s leadership, in March 2002,
Iran expelled Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, a pro-Taliban, pro-Al Qaeda Afghan faction
leader. Iran froze Hikmatyar’s assets in Iran in January 2005.
Although 18,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan and the regime there is proU.S., Iran believes its strategic position in Afghanistan is a vast improvement to its
adversarial relationship with the Taliban. Iran nearly launched a military attack
against the Taliban in September 1998 after Taliban fighters captured and killed
several Iranian diplomats based in northern Afghanistan, and it provided military aid
to the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance coalition, made up of mostly Persian-speaking
minority groups. Iran, along with the United States, Russia, and the countries
bordering Afghanistan, attended U.N.-sponsored meetings in New York (the Six
Plus Two group) to try to end the internal conflict in Afghanistan.
Iran is not a natural ally of Al Qaeda, largely on the grounds that Al Qaeda is
an orthodox Sunni Muslim organization. However, U.S. officials have said since
January 2002 that it is unclear whether Iran has arrested senior Al Qaeda operatives
who are believed to be in Iran.42 These figures are purported to include Al Qaeda
spokesman Sulayman Abu Ghaith, top operative Sayf Al Adl, and Osama bin
Laden’s son, Saad.43 On July 23, 2003, Iranian officials, for the first time, asserted
Iran had “in custody” senior Al Qaeda figures but did not name them publicly. Some
accounts say the operatives who are in Iran have been able to contact associates
outside Iran;44 assertions to this effect were made by U.S. officials after the May 12,
2003 bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia against four expatriate housing complexes
and believed perpetrated by Al Qaeda. U.S. officials have called on Iran to fulfill its
“international obligations in the global war on terrorism” by turning them over to
See CRS Report RL30588, Afghanistan: Post-War Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy.
Gertz, Bill. “Al Qaeda Terrorists Being Held by Iran.” Washington Times, July 24, 2003.
Keto, Alex. “White House Reiterates Iran Is Harboring Al Qaeda.”
Newswires, May 19, 2003.
Gertz, Bill. “CIA Points to Continuing Iran Tie to Al Qaeda.” Washington Times, July
their countries of origin for trial. Possibly in response to the criticism, on July 16,
2005, Iran’s Intelligence Minister said that 200 (presumably lower ranking) Al Qaeda
members are in Iranian jails, and he said Iran had broken up an Al Qaeda cell
planning attacks on Iranian students.45 Hardliners in Iran might want to support or
protect Al Qaeda activists as leverage against the United States and its allies, and
some reports say Iran might want to exchange them for a U.S. hand-over of People’s
Mojahedin activists under U.S. control in Iraq.
The 9/11 Commission report said several of the September 11 hijackers and
other plotters, possibly with official help, might have transited Iran, but the report
does not assert that the Iranian government cooperated with or knew about the plot.
In response to reports of the 9/11 Commission’s findings, President Bush said the
United States would continue to investigate possible ties between Iran and Al Qaeda.
U.S. Policy Responses and Legislation
The February 11, 1979, fall of the Shah of Iran, a key U.S. ally, opened a long
rift in U.S.-Iranian relations, but there have been several periods since 1997 when
a significant and sustained thawing appeared imminent. On November 4, 1979,
radical “students” seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held its diplomats hostage
until minutes after President Reagan’s inauguration on January 20, 1981. The United
States broke relations with Iran on April 7, 1980, and the two countries had only
limited official contact since.46 U.S. policy throughout the 1980s featured a marked
tilt toward Iraq in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, including U.S. diplomatic attempts to
block conventional arms sales to Iran, providing battlefield intelligence to Iraq,47 and ,
during 1987-88, direct skirmishes with Iranian naval elements in the course of U.S.
efforts to protect international oil shipments in the Gulf from Iranian attacks.
The end of the Iran-Iraq war in August 1988 appeared to lay the groundwork for
a reduction in U.S.-Iran hostility. In his January 1989 inaugural speech, President
George H.W. Bush said that, in relations with Iran, “goodwill begets goodwill,”
holding out the prospect for better relations if Iran helped obtain the release of U.S.
hostages held by Hizballah in Lebanon. Iran reportedly did assist in obtaining the
release of all U.S. and other Western hostages in Lebanon by December 1991, but no
substantial thaw followed, possibly because Iran continued to back Hizballah and
other groups opposed to the U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace process. That
process was a top Administration priority following the October 1991 Madrid
Conference bringing together leaders from Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the
Tehran Pledges to Crack Down on Militants. Associated Press, July 18, 2005.
An exception was the abortive 1985-86 clandestine arms supply relationship with Iran in
exchange for some American hostages held by Hizballah in Lebanon (the so-called
Sciolino, Elaine. The Outlaw State: Saddam Hussein’s Quest for Power and the Gulf
Crisis. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1991. P. 168.
Upon taking office in 1993, the Clinton Administration moved to further isolate
Iran as part of a strategy of “dual containment” of Iran and Iraq. In 1995 and 1996,
the Clinton Administration and Congress added sanctions on Iran in response to
growing concerns about Iran’s weapons of mass destruction, its support for terrorist
groups, and its efforts to subvert the Arab-Israeli peace process. (For details on U.S.
sanctions against Iran, see below.) The election of Khatemi in May 1997
precipitated a U.S. shift toward engagement; the Clinton Administration offered Iran
official dialogue, with no substantive preconditions. In January 1998, Khatemi
publicly agreed to increase “people-to-people” exchanges with the United States but
ruled out direct talks.
In a June 1998 speech, then Secretary of State Albright stepped up the U.S.
outreach effort by calling for mutual confidence building measures that could lead
to a “road map” for normalization of relations. Encouraged by the reformist victory
in Iran’s March 2000 parliamentary elections, Secretary Albright gave another speech
on March 17, 2000, acknowledging past U.S. meddling in Iran, announcing an easing
of sanctions on some Iranian imports, and promising to work to resolve outstanding
claims disputes. Iran called the steps insufficient to warrant direct dialogue. In
September 2000 “Millenium Summit” meetings at the United Nations, Albright and
President Clinton sent a positive signal to Iran by attending Khatemi’s speeches.
Bush Administration Policy and Options
Four months after the September 11, 2001 attacks, President Bush named Iran
as part of an “axis of evil” in his January 2002 State of the Union message, even
though there was no evidence Iran was involved in those attacks. To date, the Bush
Administration has continued the main thrust of Clinton Administration efforts to try
to limit Iran’s strategic capabilities through economic sanctions and diplomacy.
However, in President Bush’s second term, Iran’s stepped up nuclear activity has
stimulated a tilt within the Administration toward promoting a change of regime,
although press reports indicate that there still has been no agreement within the
Administration on a presidential directive that would set a firm policy course on Iran.
A number of different options are said to be under consideration.
Regime Change. Some U.S. officials believe that only an outright change of
regime would reduce substantially the strategic threat from Iran, because the current
regime harbors ambitions fundamentally at odds with the United States and its
values. Many question the prospects of success for this option, short of all-out-U.S.
military invasion, because of the weakness of opposition groups committed to
overthrowing Iran’s regime. Providing overt or covert support to anti-regime
organizations, in the view of many experts, would not make them materially more
viable or attractive to Iranians. There has been some support in the United States for
regime change since the 1979 Islamic revolution; the United States provided some
funding to anti-regime groups, mainly pro-monarchists, during the 1980s.48
CRS conversations with U.S. officials responsible for Iran policy. 1980-1990. After a
period of suspension of such assistance, in 1995, the Clinton Administration accepted a
House-Senate conference agreement to include $18-$20 million in funding authority for
The Bush Administration has shown increasing attraction to the regime change
option since the September 11, 2001, attacks. On July 12, 2002, President Bush
issued a statement supporting those Iranians demonstrating for reform and
democracy, a message he reiterated on December 20, 2002, when he inaugurated
Radio Farda. The statements appeared to signal a shift in U.S. policy from
attempting to engage and support Khatemi to publicly supporting Iranian reformers
and activists. On the other hand, as a sign of continued Administration hesitation on
this option, on October 28, 2003, then Deputy Secretary of State Armitage testified
before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States “does not have
a regime change policy toward Iran.”
President Bush’s second inaugural address (January 20, 2005) and his State of
the Union message of February 2, 2005, suggested that the Administration, in its
second term, would take further steps toward this option, even as it backs European
diplomacy with Iran on nuclear issues. In the State of the Union message, he said
“And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: as you stand for your own liberty, America
stands with you.” On her visit to Europe in early February 2005, Secretary of State
Rice said “I don’t think that the unelected mullahs who run that regime are a good
thing for the Iranian people or for the region.” On May 19, 2005, Undersecretary of
State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns testified before the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee that “The United States believes the future of Iran should be
democratic and pluralistic. We support those who wish to see Iran transformed from
a rigid, intolerant theocracy to a modern state ... We believe Iran is a country in the
process of change.” On July 1, 2005, Secretary of State Rice said “The Iranian
government should pay more attention to the democratic aspirations of the Iranian
people ... [Iran’s leaders] must know that the energy of reform that is building all
around them will one day inspire Iran’s citizens to demand their liberty and their
Some new options to promote regime change said to be under consideration
include increasing public criticism of the regime’s human rights record, and
supporting Iranian dissidents.49 An issue is whether such democracy promotion
efforts would be interpreted within Iran as U.S. meddling — a sensitive issue in Iran,
because the 1981 “Algiers Accords” that settled the Iran hostage crisis provide for
non-interference in each others’ internal affairs — and whether these programs would
reach sufficient numbers of Iranians to be effective.
The State Department has begun U.S. democracy promotion efforts in Iran,
using funds provided in recent appropriations, as discussed in the State Department
report “Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: U.S. Record 2004-2005,” released
March 28, 2005). The following has been appropriated:
covert operations against Iran in the FY1996 Intelligence Authorization Act (H.R. 1655, P.L.
104-93), according to a Washington Post report of December 22, 1995. The Clinton
Administration reportedly focused the covert aid on changing the regime’s behavior, rather
than its overthrow.
Strobel, Warren. “U.S. Planning to Put More Pressure on Iran.” Miami Herald,
December 9, 2004.
The FY2004 foreign operations appropriation (P.L. 108-199)
earmarked “notwithstanding any other provision of law” up to $1.5
million for “making grants to educational, humanitarian and nongovernmental organizations and individuals inside Iran to support
the advancement of democracy and human rights in Iran.” The State
Department Bureau of Democracy and Labor (DRL)50 has given $1
million of those funds to a U.S.-based organization, the Iran Human
Rights Documentation Center, to document abuses in Iran, using
contacts with Iranians in Iran. The Documentation Center is run
mostly by persons of Iranian origin and affiliated with Yale
University’s “Griffin Center for Health and Human Rights.” The
remaining $500,000 is being distributed through the National
Endowment for Democracy (NED).
The conference report on H.R. 4818, (P.L. 108-447) the FY2005
foreign aid appropriations, provided a further $3 million for similar
democracy promotion efforts in Iran using FY2005 funds. The State
Department has put out a solicitation for proposals for similar
projects to be funded in 2005. The solicitation closed on May 18,
and DRL says that priority areas for grant awards are political party
development, media development, labor rights, civil society
promotion, and promotion of respect for human rights. DRL
officials say they might fund exile broadcasting, as long as such
broadcasting is not affiliated with an Iranian exile political faction.51
The House-passed FY2006 foreign aid appropriation (H.R. 3057),
would appropriate another $ 1.5 million in democracy promotion
funds for use in Iran (and Syria).
Some of the recent efforts build on earlier initiatives by the Clinton
Administration which, to some degree prompted by Congress, began a program of
promoting U.S. values in Iran through broadcasting. Radio Free Europe/Radio
Liberty (RFE/RL) has operated a radio service, in Farsi, to Iran since October 1998,
broadcasting from Prague.52 As of December 2002, it has been called Radio Farda
(“Tomorrow” in Farsi), which now broadcasts 24 hours per day, at a cost of
approximately $18 million per year. A U.S.-sponsored television broadcast service
to Iran, run by the Voice of America (VOA), began operations on July 3, 2003. In
early 2005, the VOA announced it is increasing the duration of the television
broadcasts to three hours a day from 30 minutes a day.
The State Department has determined that, because Iran is ineligible for U.S. aid, Iran
democracy promotion funds cannot be channeled through the Middle East Partnership
Initiative, because those are Economic Support Funds, ESF, and cannot be used in Iran.
Briefing by DRL representatives for congressional staff. May 9, 2005.
The service began when Congress funded it ($4 million) in the conference report on H.R.
2267 (H.Rept. 105-405), the FY1998 Commerce/State/ Justice appropriation. It was to be
called “Radio Free Iran.”
Congress and Regime Change: H.R. 282 and S. 333. Some in
Congress are articulating a clear preference for further democracy promotion/regime
change efforts toward Iran. In the 108th Congress, several bills (S. 1082, H.R. 2466,
H.R. 5193) called for regime change and proposed to authorize funds to assist prodemocracy groups in Iran. In the 109th Congress, a provision of H.R. 2601, the State
Department authorization bill passed by the House, states that it is the policy of the
United States to support full democracy in Iran and the right of Iranian citizens to
choose their system of government.
Two major stand-alone bills in the 109th Congress represent this trend. H.R.
282, introduced by Representative Ros-Lehtinen, was marked up by the Middle
East/Central Asia Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee on
April 13, 2005. It has 312 co-sponsors as of July 22, 2005, but the Administration
reportedly views it as potentially complicating the EU nuclear talks with Iran. A
similar bill, S. 333, has been introduced by Senator Santorum. These bills provide
for the following.
Both bills contain provisions increasing U.S. sanctions contained in
the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA), as discussed below and in CRS
Report RS20871 on ILSA.
Both recommend the appointment of an Administration policy
coordinator on Iran, serving as a special assistant to the President.
Both specify criteria for designating pro-democracy groups eligible
to receive U.S. aid. S. 333 authorizes $10 million in U.S. funding
for such groups; H.R. 282 authorizes no specific dollar amount.
H.R. 282, as marked up by the House subcommittee, requires the
Administration to work to secure a Security Council resolution
requiring Iran to accept intrusive IAEA nuclear inspections.
H.R. 282 calls for expanded U.S. contacts with groups attempting to
promote democracy in Iran.
Both call for Iranian government representatives to be denied access
to all U.S. government buildings.
Engagement? The Bush Administration has pursued engagement with Iran
at times; although Administration interest in dialogue with Iran has waned during
2005, it has not been ruled out. Some U.S. officials have long believed that a policy
of engagement would be more successful in curbing Iran’s nuclear program and
support for terrorist groups. In May 2003, both countries publicly acknowledged that
they were conducting direct talks in Geneva on Afghanistan and Iraq,53 marking the
first confirmed direct dialogue between the two countries since the 1979 revolution.
However, the United States broke off the dialogue following the May 12, 2003
bombing in Riyadh that U.S. officials say was planned by Al Qaeda activists in Iran.
Wright, Robin. “ U.S. In ‘Useful’ Talks With Iran.” Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2003.
In December 2003, the United States resumed some contacts with Iran to coordinate
U.S. aid to victims of the December 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran, including a
reported offer to send a high-level delegation to Iran, headed by Senator Elizabeth
Dole and a Bush family member . (See further below .) However, Iran rebuffed the
offer of the Dole mission. Two late 2004 research institute reports, one by the
Council on Foreign Relations and one by the Atlantic Council, recommended further
pursuit of an engagement strategy with Iran, arguing that engagement could help
promote regional stability and progress on issues in which there is U.S.-Iran
The Administration appeared to support tentative moves by other governments
and other branches of the U.S. government toward renewed engagement in 2004.
In October-November 2004, Librarian of Congress James Billington visited Iran.
The Bush Administration was informed in advance by the Librarian of his visit and
said it viewed the visit as a cultural exchange consistent with U.S. policy. The main
purpose of his visit was to begin an exchange of materials with Iran’s national library
and included cultural meetings with Iranian film experts, poets, and architects.
Military Action? As concerns over Iran’s nuclear program have grown, public
discussion of a military option (conducted either by the United States or another
country, such as Israel) against Iran’s nuclear facilities has increased. Among outside
experts, there has been speculation since the U.S.-led war against Iraq (begun March
19, 2003) that the United States might undertake major military action against Iran
(or Syria). All-out U.S. military action to remove Iran’s regime does not appear to
be under serious consideration by the Administration. Most experts believe U.S.
forces are likely spread too thin, including about 140,000 deployed in Iraq, to
undertake it at this time and that U.S. forces would be greeted with hostility by most
Iranians. At the same time, U.S. Central Command is updating its “war plan” for
Iran, according to the Washington Post (February 10, 2005). A provision of the
House-passed H.R. 1815, the FY2006 defense authorization bill, requires a Defense
Department report to Congress on how the United States might be affected
strategically and how it might respond to the acquisition by Iran of a nuclear weapon.
Some experts believe that limited military action, such as air strikes against
suspected nuclear sites, could be a potentially useful option to set back Iran’s nuclear
program. On February 22, 2005, during his visit to Europe, President Bush attempted
to calm European concerns about a possible U.S. strike on Iran, saying that “This
notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous,” but
he counterbalanced that statement by saying that “all options are on the table.”55 On
November 5, 2004, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the United Kingdom
could not see a circumstance that would allow it to support such an air strike by the
United States, Israel, or any other force, on Iran at this time.
For text of the Council on Foreign Relations study, see [http://www.cfr.org/pdf/Iran
Fletcher, Michael and Keith Richburg. Bush Tries to Allay E.U. Worry Over Iran.
Washington Post, February 23, 2005.
Some believe Iran might retaliate through terrorism or other means, and others
question whether the United States is aware of all relevant sites. Still others maintain
that Iran might have shielded some of its nuclear infrastructure from a strike. A
January 2005 New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh asserts that President Bush has
authorized covert special forces missions into Iran to assess potential nuclear-related
targets for a U.S. air strike. The Department of Defense criticized the credibility of
the article, but it did not dispute this particular assertion. In February 2005, there
were press reports that the United States is flying unmanned aerial surveillance craft
over Iran, in part to help survey nuclear sites, and as part of a broader U.S. review of
its intelligence on Iran.56
Expressing particular fear that Iran might achieve a nuclear weapons capability,
some Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz (October 2004), have
refused to rule out the possibility that Israel might strike Iran’s nuclear infrastructure,
although some experts doubt that Israel has the capabilities that could conceivably
make such action effective. On January 20, 2005, Vice President Cheney gave a
radio interview suggesting that Israel might decide to undertake such a strike if the
United States did not do so first. During an April 2005 visit to the United States,
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon publicly said that no such strike is being planned.
Nonetheless, a Defense Department decision to sell Israel $30 billion worth of GBU28 “bunker buster” munitions has led to speculation that Israel might be
contemplating such a strike, and with some degree of U.S. support. 57
U.S. military analysts note that U.S. forces in the Gulf region could potentially
be used against Iran, if the President so decides. Related options, which might
involve U.S. naval forces in the Gulf, would be to institute searches of Iran-bound
vessels suspected of containing WMD-related technology, or placing nuclear-armed
weapons aboard U.S. ships operating in the Gulf as a signal of strength to Iran. The
Administration has discussed with its allies some measures that could be used to
block North Korea’s technology exports and alleged drug smuggling, 58 an initiative
that has won allied support. In contrast, some officials of allied governments,
including Britain, have called for greater cooperation with Iran to curb the movement
of smugglers and terrorists across the Persian Gulf. 59
International Sanctions? Iran is not subject to U.N. sanctions. However,
the EU-3 countries have told Iran that they would support a referral of the nuclear
issue to the Security Council, presumably for the imposition of sanctions, if Iran
withdraws from the talks or fails to uphold its new nuclear pledges. At the same
Linzer, Dafna. U.S. Uses Drones to Probe Iran For Arms. Washington Post, February 13,
2005; Linzer, Dafna and Walter Pincus. U.S. Reviewing Its Intelligence on Iran.
Washington Post, February 12, 2005.
Stone, Andrea. “U.S. Plans to Sell 100 Bunker Busting Bombs to Israel.” USA Today,
April 18, 2005.
Kralev, Thomas. “U.S. Asks Aid Barring Arms From Rogue States.” Washington Times,
June 5, 2003.
“British Commander Calls for More Cooperation With Iran in Persian Gulf.” BBC, May
time, at the urging of European leaders, in March 2005 the Administration decided
to support the talks by offering to drop some U.S. sanctions on Iran (ending U.S.
opposition to Iran’s applying to join the WTO, and agreeing to sales of aircraft parts
to Iran). Under Secretary of State Burns testified before the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee on May 19, 2005, that the Administration is not, at this point, considering
any new incentives to support the EU-3 talks with Iran, although some U.S.
commitments would presumably be needed in order for the EU-3 to offer Iran
“security guarantees” in the context of a comprehensive nuclear deal.
If further international sanctions are considered, some options that have been
used or considered in similar cases could include the following.
Imposing an international ban or limitations on purchases of Iranian
oil or other trade. This sanction was imposed on Iraq after its 1990
invasion of Kuwait. However, this sanction is considered unlikely
because world oil prices have risen to about $57 per barrel.
Imposing an intrusive U.N.-led WMD inspections regime, similar to
that imposed on Iraq after its defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
The objective of such an inspections program, for example, could be
to enforce a Security Council decision to prevent Iran from enriching
uranium. Some might argue that the effectiveness of such a program
might depend on the degree of Iranian cooperation with it.
Imposing a worldwide ban on investment in Iran’s energy sector,
possibly to include construction of oil or gas pipeline linkages with
Iran. This option could receive Security Council opposition on the
same grounds as the oil purchase ban discussed above.
Mandating reductions in diplomatic exchanges with Iran. This
sanction was imposed on the Taliban government of Afghanistan in
1999 in response to its harboring of Al Qaeda leadership.
Banning international flights to and from Iran. This sanction was
imposed on Libya in response to the finding that its agents were
responsible for the December 21, 1988, bombing of Pan Am 103.
limiting further lending to Iran by international financial institutions.
Since the November 4, 1979, seizure of the U.S. hostages in Tehran, unilateral
U.S. economic sanctions have formed a major part of U.S. policy toward Iran. 60 To
date, few, if any, other countries have followed the U.S. lead by imposing sanctions
on Iran, and no U.N. sanctions exist on that country. Some experts believe that U.S.
sanctions have hindered Iran’s economy, forcing it to curb spending on conventional
On November 14, 1979, President Carter declared a national emergency with respect to
Iran, renewed every year since 1979.
arms purchases, but others believe that because the sanctions are not multilateral, the
U.S. sanctions have had only marginal effect, and that foreign investment has flowed
in nonetheless. 61 Those who take the latter view maintain that Iran’s economic
performance fluctuates according to the price of oil, and far less so from other
factors. Because oil prices remain relatively high ( nearly $57 per barrel), Iran’s
economy is growing about 5% per year. Iran’s per capita income is estimated to now
exceed $2,000 per year, up from about $1,700 in 2002.
Terrorism/Foreign Aid Sanctions. In January 1984, following the October
1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, believed perpetrated by
Hizballah, Iran was added to the so-called “terrorism list.” The terrorism list was
established by Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act of 1979, imposing
economic sanctions on countries determined to have provided repeated support for
acts of international terrorism. The designation bans direct U.S. financial assistance
and arms sales, restricts sales of U.S. dual use items, and requires the United States
to oppose multilateral lending to the designated countries. Separate from its position
on the terrorism list, successive foreign aid appropriations laws since the late 1980s
ban direct assistance to Iran (loans, credits, insurance, Eximbank credits) and
indirect assistance (U.S. contributions to international organizations that work in
Iran). Section 307 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (added in 1985) names Iran
as unable to benefit from U.S. contributions to international organizations, and
require proportionate cuts if these institutions work in Iran. Iran also has been
designated every year since 1997 as not cooperating with U.S. anti-terrorism efforts,
under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (P.L. 104-132). That act
penalizes countries that assist or sell arms to terrorism list countries.
U.S. regulations do not bar disaster relief and the United States donated
$125,000, through relief agencies, to help victims of two earthquakes in Iran
(February and May 1997), and another $350,000 worth of aid to the victims of a June
22, 2002 earthquake. (The World Bank provided some earthquake related lending
as well, as discussed below.)
Bam Earthquake. The United States provided $5.7 million in assistance (out
of total governmental pledges of about $32 million, of which $17 million have been
remitted) to the victims of the December 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran, which killed
as many as 40,000 people and destroyed 90% of Bam’s buildings. The United States
flew in 68,000 kilograms of supplies to Bam, flown in by U.S. military flights, the
first U.S. military flights into Iran since the abortive “Iran-Contra Affair” of 19851986. The United States also deployed to Iran an 81-member Disaster Assistance
Response Team (DART) composed of 7 USAID experts, 11 members of the Fairfax
County (VA) urban search and rescue team, and 66 medical experts from the Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Iranian-American and other
organizations coordinated donations in the United States for victims of the quake.
On December 27, 2003, the Administration issued a 90-day amendment to the Iranian
Transaction Regulations to authorize U.S. persons to make donations of funds for
humanitarian relief for the earthquake victims. Under the amendment, Iranian-owned
“The Fight Over Letting Foreigners Into Iran’s Oilfields.” The Economist, July 14, 2001.
banks could be used to effect the transfer of funds, although no Iranian financing
could be accessed.
Proliferation Sanctions. Several sanctions laws are unique to Iran. The
Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act (P.L. 102-484) requires denial of license
applications for exports to Iran of dual use items, and imposes sanctions on foreign
countries that transfer to Iran “destabilizing numbers and types of conventional
weapons,” as well as WMD technology. The Iran Nonproliferation Act (INA, P.L.
106-178) authorizes sanctions on foreign entities that assist Iran’s WMD programs.
It bans U.S. extraordinary payments to the Russian Aviation and Space Agency in
connection with the international space station unless the President can certify that
the agency or entities under the Agency’s control had not transferred any WMD or
missile-related technology to Iran within the year prior. The provision contains
certain exceptions to ensure the safety of astronauts who will use the international
space station and for certain space station hardware. Unless the Administration
determines that Russian entities are no longer violating the act, the provision could
complicate U.S. efforts to keep U.S. astronauts on the station beyond April 2006,
when Russia plans to start charging the United States for transporting them on its
Soyuz spacecraft. The Administration, and NASA in particular, says it is looking for
ways, consistent with the act, to continue to access the international space station. 63
A provision of the House-passed FY2006 defense authorization bill (H.R. 1815)
expresses the sense of Congress that the INA not be “weakened” by creating
exceptions to it that permit extraordinary payments to Russia.
Reflecting a Bush Administration decision to proceed with rather than overlook
alleged violations or waive sanctions, the Bush Administration has sanctioned
numerous entities, including from North Korea, China, India, Armenia, Taiwan, and
Moldova. These entities were sanctioned under the INA, the Iran-Iraq Arms NonProliferation Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-484), and another law, the Chemical and
Biological Warfare Elimination Act of 1991, for sales to Iran:
In May 2003, the Bush Administration sanctioned a major Chinese
industrial entity, Norinco, for allegedly selling missile technology to
On July 4, 2003, an additional Chinese entity, the Taiwan Foreign
Trade General Corporation, was sanctioned under the INA.
On September 17, 2003, the Administration imposed sanctions on
a leading Russian arms manufacturer, the Tula Instrument Design
Bureau, for allegedly selling laser-guided artillery shells to Iran.
On April 7, 2004, the Administration announced sanctions on 13
entities under the INA: Baranov Engine Building Association
Overhaul Facility (Russia); Beijing Institute of Opto-Electronic
See CRS Report RS22072, The Iran Nonproliferation Act and the International Space
Station: Issues and Options. By Sharon Squassoni and Marcia Smith.
Gugliotta, Guy. “Long Arm of Foreign Policy.” Washington Post, August 25, 2004.
Technology (China); Belvneshpromservice (Belarus); Blagoja
Smakoski (Macedonia); Changgwang Sinyong Corp. (North Korea);
Norinco (China); China Precision Machinery Import/Export
Corporation (China); Elmstone Service and Trading (UAE); Goodly
Industrial Co. (Taiwan); Mikrosam (Macedonia); Oriental Scientific
Instruments Corp. (China); Vadim Vorobey (Russia); and Zibo
Chemical Equipment Plant (China).
In December 2004 and January 2005, INA sanctions were imposed
on fourteen more entities, mostly from China, for alleged supplying
of Iran’s missile program. Many, such as North Korea’s
Changgwang Sinyong and China’s Norinco and Great Wall Industry
Corp, have been sanctioned several times previously. Other entities
sanctioned included North Korea’s Paeksan Associated Corporation,
and Taiwan’s Ecoma Enterprise Co.
On June 29, 2005, President Bush signed an executive order blocking the U.S.based assets and property of any individual or entity determined to have contributed
to Iran (or other countries’) WMD programs. The order also designated several
Iranian entities as responsible for WMD and missile programs; it froze their U.S.
assets (if any) and prohibited U.S. citizens or companies from engaging in
transactions with them. 64
The FY2005 foreign aid appropriation (P.L. 108-447) would punish the Russian
Federation for assisting Iran. The law withholds 60% of any U.S. assistance to the
Russian Federation unless it terminates technical assistance to Iran’s civilian nuclear
and ballistic missiles programs. Similar sanctions against the Russian government
for assisting Iran have been enacted in previous years, and the FY2006 foreign aid
appropriation (H.R. 3057) , as passed by the House, contains a similar provision.
Counter-Narcotics. In February 1987, Iran was first designated as a state that
failed to cooperate with U.S. anti-drug efforts or take adequate steps to control
narcotics production or trafficking. U.S. and U.N. Drug Control Program (UNDCP)
assessments of drug production in Iran prompted the Clinton Administration, on
December 7, 1998, to remove Iran from the U.S. list of major drug producing
countries. The decision exempted Iran from the annual certification process that kept
drug-related U.S. sanctions in place on Iran. According to several governments, over
the past few years Iran has augmented security on its border with Afghanistan in part
to prevent the flow of narcotics from that country into Iran. Britain has sold Iran
night vision equipment and body armor for the counter-narcotics fight.
Trade Ban. On May 6, 1995, President Clinton issued Executive Order 12959
banning U.S. trade and investment in Iran. This followed an earlier March 1995
executive order barring U.S. investment in Iran’s energy sector. The trade ban was
partly intended to blunt criticism that U.S. trade with Iran made U.S. appeals for
multilateral containment of Iran less credible. Each March since 1995, most recently
on March 11, 2005, the U.S. Administration has renewed a declaration of a state of
emergency that triggered the March 1995 investment ban. An August 1997
amendment to the trade ban (Executive Order 13059) prevented U.S. companies from
knowingly exporting goods to a third country for incorporation into products destined
for Iran. The following conditions and modifications apply.
Some goods related to the safe operation of civilian aircraft may be
licensed for export to Iran, and in December 1999, the Clinton
Administration allowed the repair of engine mountings on seven Iran
Air 747s (Boeing).
Implementing regulations do not permit U.S. firms to negotiate
investment deals with Iran or to trade Iranian oil overseas.
Following a 1998 application by a U.S. firm to sell Iran agricultural
products, and in the context of Clinton Administration and
congressional reviews of U.S. unilateral sanctions policies, the
Clinton Administration announced in April 1999 that it would
license, on a case-by-case basis, commercial sales of food and
medical products to certain countries on which unilateral U.S. trade
bans are in place (Iran, Libya, and Sudan). Under regulations issued
in July 1999, private letters of credit can be used to finance approved
sales, but no U.S. government credit guarantees are available and
U.S. exporters are not permitted to deal directly with Iranian banks.
The FY2001 agriculture appropriations (P.L. 106-387) contained a
provision banning the use of official credit guarantees for food and
medical sales to Iran and other countries on the U.S. terrorism list,
except Cuba, although allowing for a presidential waiver to permit
such credit guarantees. Neither the Clinton Administration nor the
Bush Administration has provided the credit guarantees. Iran says
the lack of credit makes U.S. sales, particularly of wheat,
After the March 2000 speech mentioned above, the trade ban was
eased to allow U.S. importation of Iranian nuts, dried fruits, carpets,
and caviar; regulations governing the imports were issued in April
2000. The United States was the largest market for Iranian carpets
before the 1979 revolution, but U.S. anti-dumping tariffs imposed on
Iranian pistachio nut imports in 1986 (over 300%) dampened
imports of that product. In January 2003, the tariff on roasted
pistachios was lowered to 22% and on raw pistachios to 163%. In
December 2004, U.S. sanctions were further modified to allow
Americans to freely engage in ordinary publishing activities with
entities in Iran (and Cuba and Sudan).
Subsidiaries of U.S. firms are not barred from dealing with Iran, as
long as the subsidiary has no operational relationship to the parent
company. Some U.S. companies have come under scrutiny for
dealings by their subsidiaries with Iran. On January 11, 2005, Iran
said it had let a contract to the U.S. company Halliburton, and an
Iranian company, Oriental Kish, to drill for gas in Phases 9 and 10
of South Pars. Under the deal, Halliburton would reportedly provide
its services, valued at $30 million to $35 million worth of fees per
year, through Oriental Kish. This leaves unclear whether
Halliburton would be considered in violation of the U.S. trade and
investment ban, or ILSA. 65 Because of criticism within the United
States, Halliburton announced on January 28, 2005, that it would
withdraw all employees from Iran and end its pursuit of future
business opportunities there, although it is not clear that Halliburton
has pulled out of the Oriental Kish deal. 66 One week later, GE
announced it would seek no new business in Iran. According to
press reports, GE has been selling Iran equipment and services for
hydroelectric, oil and gas services, and medical diagnostic projects
through Italian, Canadian, and French subsidiaries. The trade ban
appears to bar any Iranian company from buying a foreign company
that has U.S. units.
The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) and Regional Oil and Gas
Projects. 67 ILSA (P.L. 104-172, August 5, 1996), as amended, sanctions foreign
(or U.S.) investment of more than $20 million in one year in Iran or Libya’s energy
sector. It was to sunset on August 5, 2001, but it was renewed for another five years
(P.L. 107-24, August 3, 2001). The renewal law required an Administration report
on its effectiveness within 24-30 months, which did not recommend repeal. No
sanctions have been imposed under ILSA, although three companies involved in one
project (South Pars) were deemed in violation in September 1998; but sanctions were
waived. A number of other investments have remained “under review” for ILSA
sanctions since 1999.
The U.S. trade ban permits U.S. companies to apply for licenses to conduct
“swaps” of Caspian Sea oil with Iran, but, as part of a U.S. policy to route Central
Asian energy around Iran (and Russia), a Mobil Corporation application to do so was
denied in April 1999. The Bush Administration continues to oppose, and to threaten
imposing ILSA sanctions on, regional pipeline projects that include Iran. U.S. policy
promoted construction of a pipeline that would cross the Caspian Sea and terminate
in Ceyhan, Turkey (Baku-Ceyhan pipeline); the policy appeared to bear fruit when
four Caspian nations (Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan) formally
embraced the route in November 1999. Regional and corporate support for the
project subsequently gained momentum, construction began, and the pipeline has
began preliminary operations in May 2005. On the other hand, despite U.S. pressure
not to import Iranian gas, in December 2001 Turkey began doing so through a new
cross-border pipeline, under an August 1996 agreement. Iran is said to be importing
gasoline from these countries and the Persian Gulf states because of a lack of
adequate refining capacity in Iran.
“Iran Says Halliburton Won Drilling Contract.” Washington Times, January 11, 2005.
Boyd, Roderick. Halliburton Agrees to Leave Iran, Thompson Says. New York Sun,
March 25, 2005.
A separate CRS Report RS20871, The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, assesses ILSA. This
report also discusses major foreign investment projects in Iran’s energy sector.
A major emerging issue is that of a proposed gas pipeline from Iran to India,
through Pakistan, and with a possible extension to China. The idea is an outgrowth
of the growing gas sales relationship with India. Leaders of Iran, Pakistan, and India
all say they want to pursue the project, despite U.S. opposition, and India and
Pakistan have formed a working group to accelerate the project. During her visit to
Asia in March 2005, Secretary of State Rice “expressed U.S. concern” about the
pipeline deal, although neither she nor any other U.S. official has directly stated that
it would be reviewed for ILSA sanctions. 68 On June 7, 2005, U.S. Ambassador to
Pakistan Ryan Crocker denied that the United States is pressuring Pakistan not to
agree to the project.
As discussed above in the section on “regime change,” H.R. 282 and S. 333
have several provisions to amend ILSA. These provisions are as follows:
increasing the requirements on the Administration to justify waiving
sanctions on companies determined to have violated its provisions;
repealing the sunset (expiration) provision of ILSA; setting a 90-day
time limit for the Administration to determine whether an
investment constitutes a violation of ILSA. (There is not time limit
in ILSA currently); and making exports to Iran of WMD-useful
technology sanctionable under ILSA.69
H.R 282, as marked up, also
would cut U.S. assistance to countries whose companies have
invested in Iran’s energy sector;
would apply ILSA’s provisions to foreign subsidiaries of U.S.
companies; and would require public disclosure of investment funds
that have investments in companies that have invested in Iran’s
energy sector. (Some of these disclosure provisions are contained
in separate bills, H.R. 1743 and S. 299).
Travel-Related Guidance. Use of U.S. passports for travel to Iran is
permitted, but a State Department travel warning, softened somewhat in April 1998,
asks that Americans “defer” travel to Iran. Iranians entering the United States are
required to be fingerprinted.
Some of the Indian companies that reportedly might take part in the pipeline project are:
Oil and Natural Gas Corp.; GAIL (India) Ltd.; Indian Oil Corp.; and Bharat Petroleum Corp.
Some large European companies have also expressed interest. See, Solomon, Jay and Neil
King. “U.S. Tries to Balance Encouraging India-Pakistan Rapprochement With Isolating
Tehran.” Wall Street Journal, June 24, 2005. P. A4.
ILSA sanctions with respect to Libya were terminated on April 23, 2004, on the grounds
that the President certified Libya had complied with U.N. Security Council resolutions
related to the December 21, 1988, bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
Multilateral Policies Toward Iran
Most U.S. allies see engagement, rather than punitive measures such as
sanctions, as a more useful means of changing Iran’s behavior. During 1992-1997,
the European Union (EU) countries maintained a policy of “critical dialogue” with
Iran, asserting that dialogue and commerce with Iran could moderate Iran’s behavior.
The United States did not oppose those talks but maintained that the EU’s dialogue
would not change Iranian behavior. The dialogue was suspended immediately
following the April 1997 German terrorism trial (“Mykonos trial”) that found highlevel Iranian involvement in assassinating Iranian dissidents in Germany. Alongside
Khatemi’s accession, the EU-Iran dialogue formally resumed in May 1998. He
undertook state visits to several Western countries, including Italy (March 1999),
France (October 1999), Germany (July 2000), and Japan (November 2000); the
United States publicly welcomed these visits.
EU-Iran Trade Negotiations. In December 2002, Iran and the EU
(European Commission) first began negotiations on a “Trade and Cooperation
Agreement” (TCA) that would lower the tariffs or increase quotas for Iranian exports
to the EU countries, with linkage to Iran’s addressing EU concerns on Iran’s human
rights practices and terrorism sponsorship. However, revelations about Iran’s
possible nuclear weapons ambitions caused the EU to suspend talks on a TCA in
July 2003. As noted above, the EU - Iran TCA talks resumed in January 2005 in
concert with negotiations on a permanent nuclear agreement. The EU has said a
TCA depends on more than just nuclear issues, and the EU has insisted on working
group discussions on Iran’s human rights record, Iran’s alleged efforts to derail the
Middle East peace process, Iran’s record of supporting terrorism (Al Qaeda,
Hezbollah, Hamas, and the PMOI, which Iran considers a terrorist group, although
the EU does not), and proliferation issues. There are also discussions on counternarcotics, refugees, and migration issues — issues on which Iran’s record has
sometimes been positive. After the eighth round of negotiations on July 12-13, 2005,
European Commission negotiators say the talks are making progress, although it is
unlikely that a deal would be finalized unless a deal is also reached on nuclear issues.
Country-Specific Policies: Britain and France. The 1998 resolution of
the “Rushdie affair” to Britain’s satisfaction sparked improvement in its relations
with Iran. Iran maintains that Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 death sentence against
author Salman Rushdie cannot be revoked (his “Satanic Verses” novel was labeled
blasphemous) because Khomeini is no longer alive to revoke it. On September 24,
1998, Iran’s Foreign Minister pledged to Britain that Iran would not seek to
implement the sentence and opposed any bounties offered for his death. Britain then
upgraded relations with Iran to the ambassadorial level. Some Iranian clerics
(outside the formal government structure) have said the death sentence stands, and
the Iranian government has not required the Fifteen Khordad foundation to withdraw
its $2.8 million reward for Rushdie’s death. Khatemi said on June 4, 2001 that he
considers the issue closed. In October 2000, Britain began extending longer term
credit (two years or greater) for exports to Iran.
As noted above (ILSA section), French-Iranian economic relations have
burgeoned in recent years. French investment in Iran now goes well beyond the
energy sector into car production in Iran and other initiatives. Some of the major
French companies investing in Iran (outside the energy sector) include Renault,
Societe-Generale (banking), Peugeot, and Alcatel.
Japan/Azadegan Field. In August 1999, Japan continued a gradual
improvement in relations with Iran by announcing a resumption of Japan’s official
development lending program for Iran to construct a hydroelectric dam over the
Karun River. However, the $70 million increment announced was less than Iran had
wanted, and Japan said that this tranche would close out Japan’s involvement in the
project. (In 1993, Japan provided the first $400 million tranche of the overall $1.4
billion official development loan program, but the lending was subsequently placed
on hold as the United States sought to persuade its allies to pressure Iran.) In late
January 2000, Japan agreed to resume medium- and long-term export credit
insurance for exports to Iran, suspended since 1994. Economic relations improved
further during Khatemi’s November 2000 visit to Tokyo, which resulted in Iran
granting Japanese firms the first right to negotiate to develop the large Azadegan
field. Partly at U.S. urging, Japan has refused to extend to Iran new official loans.
Multilateral, World Bank, and IMF Lending to Iran. During 1994-1995,
and over U.S. objections at the time, Iran’s European and Japanese creditors
rescheduled about $16 billion in Iranian debt. These countries (governments and
private creditors) rescheduled the debt bilaterally, in spite of Paris Club rules that call
for multilateral rescheduling and International Monetary Fund (IMF) involvement.
Iran has worked its external debt down from $32 billion in 1997 to below $12 billion
as of March 2005. The improved debt picture has led most European export credit
agencies to restore insurance cover for exports to Iran. In July 2002, Iran tapped
international capital markets for the first time since the Islamic revolution, selling
$500 million in bonds to European banks. At the urging of the U.S. government, in
May 2002 Moody’s stopped its credit ratings service for Iran’s government bonds on
the grounds that performing the credit ratings service might violate the U.S. trade
Section 1621 of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
(P.L. 104-132) amended the Foreign Assistance Act to require the United States to
vote against international loans to countries on the U.S. terrorism list. Acting under
provisions of successive foreign aid laws, in 1993 the United States voted its 16.5%
share of the World Bank against loans to Iran of $460 million for electricity, health,
and irrigation projects, but the loans were approved. To signal a harder line, the
FY1994 foreign aid appropriations (P.L. 103-87) cut the amount appropriated for
the U.S. contribution to the World Bank by the amount of those loans. That law, as
well as the foreign aid appropriations for FY1995 (P.L. 103-306) and FY1996 (P.L.
104-107), would have significantly reduced U.S. payments to the Bank if it had
provided new loans to Iran, and the Bank then stopped approving new loans to Iran.
By 1999, Iran’s moderating image had led the World Bank to consider new
loans. U.S. policy, as explained on October 29, 2003, a Treasury Department
official, Bill Schuerch, in testimony before the House Financial Services Committee,
has been to try to block the World Bank loans to Iran. However, the United States
does not have a large enough voting share to guarantee that outcome. In May 2000,
the United States’ allies outvoted the United States and approved $232 million in
loans for health and sewage projects. In May 2001 the Bank approved a two-year
economic reform plan for Iran that envisioned $775 million in new Bank loans.
During April 2003 - May 2005, a total of $725 million in loans were approved for
environmental management, housing reform, water and sanitation projects, and land
management projects, in addition to a $400 million in loans for earthquake relief.
On July 15, 2004, a proposed amendment to the House version of the FY2005
foreign aid appropriations, H.R. 4818, was defeated. It would have cut U.S. funding
to the World Bank by the $360 million in loans to Iran that the Bank had approved
in May 2004. A provision of the State Department authorization bill for FY2006 and
FY2007, H.R. 2601 , calls on the Administration to lobby other governments to vote
against international loans to Iran.
In 1999-2000, Iran had asked the International Monetary Fund for about $400
million in loans (its quota is about $2 billion) to help it deal with its trade financing
shortfalls. However, Iran balked at accepting IMF conditionality, and there was no
WTO Membership. Iran first attempted to apply to join the WTO in July
1996. On 22 occasions after that, representatives of the Clinton and then the Bush
Administration blocked Iran from applying (applications must be by consensus of the
148 members). As discussed above, as part of an effort to assist the EU-3 nuclear
talks with Iran, the Administration announced on March 11, 2005, that it would drop
opposition to Iran’s applying for WTO membership if a nuclear deal is reached. In
May 2005, when it appeared the EU-3 talks with Iran might collapse, the United
States dropped its opposition to Iran’s application, and Iran began accession talks.
The talks could take many years, as Iran’s economy contains some structural
imbalances and restrictions, such as control of major economic sectors or markets by
the quasi-statal “foundations” (bonyads), that would need to be reformed before Iran
could obtain full membership.
Status of Some U.S.-Iran Assets Disputes
Iran views the issue of outstanding disputed commercial claims and U.S.blocked assets as an obstacle to improved relations. A U.S.-Iran Claims Tribunal at
the Hague is arbitrating cases resulting from the break in relations and freezing of
some of Iran’s assets following the Iranian revolution. The major cases yet to be
decided center on hundreds of Foreign Military Sales cases between the United States
and the Shah’s regime, which Iran claims it paid for but were unfulfilled. About
$400 million in proceeds from the resale of that equipment is in a DOD account, and
about $22 million in Iranian diplomatic property remains blocked. The assets issue
moved to the forefront following several U.S. court judgments against Iran for past
acts of terrorism against Americans, filed under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective
Death Penalty Act of 1996.70
Regarding the mistaken U.S. shoot-down on July 3,1988 of an Iranian Airbus
passenger jet, on February 22, 1996, the United States, responding to an Iranian case
See CRS Report RL31258, Suits Against Terrorism States by Victims of Terrorism.
before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), agreed to pay Iran up to $61.8 million
in compensation ($300,000 per wage earning victim, $150,000 per non wage earner)
for the 248 Iranians killed. The funds for this settlement came from a general
appropriation for judgments against the United States. The United States previously
paid $3 million in death benefits for 47 non-Iranians killed in the attack, but has not
compensated Iran for the airplane itself. A different case, pending before the ICJ,
involves an Iranian claim for damages to Iranian oil platforms during U.S. naval
clashes with Iran in October 1987 and April 1988.
Mistrust between the United States and Iran’s Islamic regime has run deep for
over two decades. Many experts say that all factions in Iran are united on major
national security issues and that U.S.-Iran relations might not improve unless or until
the Islamic regime is removed or moderates substantially. Some believe that a crisis
is likely if Iran does not fully and unambiguously abandon any efforts toward
achieving a nuclear weapons capability.
Others say that, despite the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June 2005
presidential elections, the United States and Iran have a common interest in stability
in the Persian Gulf and South Asia regions in the aftermath of the defeat of the
Taliban and the regime of Saddam Hussein. Those who take this view say that Iran
is far more secure now that the United States has removed these two regimes, and it
might be more willing than previously to accommodate U.S. interests in the Gulf.
Others say that the opposite is more likely, that Iran now feels more encircled than
ever by pro-U.S. regimes and U.S. forces guided by a policy of pre-emption, and Iran
might redouble its efforts to develop WMD and other capabilities to deter the United
Figure 1. Map of Iran