Iran: United States Concerns and Policy Responses

By Katzman, Kenneth | DISAM Journal, August 2009 | Go to article overview
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Iran: United States Concerns and Policy Responses


Katzman, Kenneth, DISAM Journal


[The following are excerpts from the March 13, 2009 update to the subject report by the Congressional Research Service, March 13, 2009. Some of the footnotes have been omitted because the paragraphs containing the footnote have been omitted.]

The Bush Administration characterized Iran as a "profound threat to U.S. national security interests;" a perception generated primarily by Iran's nuclear program and its military assistance to armed groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the Palestinian group Hamas, and to Lebanese Hezbollah. The Bush Administration's approach was to try to prevent a nuclear breakout by Iran by applying multilateral economic pressure on Iran while also offering it potential cooperation should it comply with the international demands to suspend its enrichment of uranium. The incorporation of diplomacy and engagement into the overall U.S. strategy led the Administration to approve the participation of a high-level State Department official at multilateral nuclear talks with Iran on July 19, 2008. To strengthen its approach, the Bush Administration maintained a substantial naval presence in the Persian Gulf, which U.S. Commanders insist would prevent any Iranian attempts to close the crucial Strait of Hormuz for any extended period.

President Obama has said his Administration shares the goals of the previous Administration on Iran, and Secretary of State Clinton has said she shares the perception that Iran is trying to undermine many U.S. goals in the Middle East, but Obama Administration officials say that there is need for new strategies and approaches. First and foremost, according to President Obama, [the goal] is to look for opportunities to expand direct engagement with Iran. His Administration also appears to be de-emphasizing potential U.S. military action, although without ruling that out completely, and efforts to promote democracy in Iran. Yet, there is debate among experts over whether such shifts would yield clearer results. The policy decisions come as Iran enters its run-up to June 12, 2009 presidential elections, which, now that former President Mohammad Khatemi and other reformists have entered the race, might produce more moderate leadership in Iran.

The multilateral efforts to pressure Iran include three United Nations (U.N.) Security Council resolutions (1737, 1747, and 1803) that ban weapons of mass destruction (WMD) related trade with Iran, freeze the assets of Iran's nuclear and related entities and personalities, prevent Iran from transferring arms outside Iran, ban or require reporting on international travel by named Iranians, call for inspections of some Iranian sea and airborne cargo shipments, and call for restrictions on dealings with some Iranian banks. Further the U.N. Security Council sanctions have been under consideration. Separate U.S. efforts to persuade European governments to curb trade, investment, and credits to Iran and to convince foreign banks not to do business with Iran are beginning to weaken Iran's economy, compounding the effect of a sharp drop in oil prices since mid-2008. Bills in the 110th Congress, including: H.R. 1400, H.R. 7112, H.Con.Res. 362, S. 970, S. 3227, S. 3445, and S.Res. 580, versions of which might be introduced in the 111th Congress, would tighten U.S. sanctions on Iran.

United States Policy Responses, Options, and Legislation

The February 11, 1979 fall of the Shah of Iran, a key U.S. ally, opened the long and deep rift in U.S.-Iranian relations. 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 U.S. broke relations with Iran on April 7, 1980 (just after the failed U.S. military attempt to rescue the hostages); and the two countries have had only limited official contact since. (1) The United States tilted toward Iraq in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, including U.S. diplomatic attempts to block conventional arms sales to Iran; providing battlefield intelligence to Iraq; (2) and, during 1987-1988, direct skirmishes with Iranian naval elements in the course of U.

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