Search Penny Hill Press

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Iran’s Economic Conditions: U.S. Policy Issues

Shayerah Ilias
Analyst in International Trade and Finance

The Islamic Republic of Iran, a resource-rich and labor-rich country in the Middle East, is a central focus of U.S. national security policy. The United States asserts that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and that Iran's uranium enrichment activities are for the development of nuclear weapons. To the extent that U.S. sanctions and other efforts to change Iranian state policy target aspects of Iran's economy as a means of influence, it is important to evaluate Iran's economic structure, strengths, and vulnerabilities. 

Since 2000, Iran has enjoyed broad-based economic growth. However, strong economic performance has been hindered by high levels of inflation and unemployment and low levels of foreign investment. Some contend that President Ahmadinejad's expansionary monetary and fiscal policies have worsened unemployment, inflation, and poverty in Iran. With the onset of the global economic downturn, Iran's economic growth was expected to slow in 2009 and through 2010. 

Iran has long been subject to U.S. economic sanctions and more recently, to United Nations sanctions, over its uranium enrichment program and purported support for terror activities. Such sanctions are believed by some analysts to contribute to Iran's growing international trade and financial isolation. 

Iran's economy is highly dependent on the production and export of crude oil to finance government spending, and consequently is vulnerable to fluctuations in international oil prices. Although Iran has vast petroleum reserves, the country lacks adequate refining capacity and imports gasoline to meet domestic energy needs. Iran is seeking foreign investment to develop its petroleum sector. While some deals have been finalized, reputational and financial risks may have limited other foreign companies' willingness to finalize deals. 

While Iran-U.S. economic relations are limited, the United States has a key interest in Iran's relations with other countries. As some European countries have curbed trade and investment dealings with Iran, other countries, such as China and Russia, have emerged as increasingly important economic partners. Iran also has focused more heavily on regional trade opportunities, such as with the United Arab Emirates. 

High oil prices have increased Iran's leverage in dealing with international issues, but the country's dependence on oil and other weak spots in the economy have to come to light by the 2008 international financial crisis, which may portend a slowing down of Iran's economy. 

Members of Congress are divided about the proper course of action in respect to Iran. Some advocate a hard line, while others contend that sanctions are ineffective at promoting policy change in Iran and hurt the U.S. economy. In the 110th Congress, several bills were introduced that reflect both perspectives. Policies toward Iran remain a key issue for the 111th Congress.

Date of Report: April 22, 2010
Number of Pages: 41
Order Number: RL34525
Price: $29.95

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.