Search Penny Hill Press

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The Obama Administration has not changed the Bush Administration's characterization of Iran as
a "profound threat to U.S. national security interests," a perception generated not only by Iran's
nuclear program but also by its military assistance to armed groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the
Palestinian group Hamas, and to Lebanese Hezbollah. In its first year, the Obama Administration
altered the U.S. approach for reducing the Iranian threat by expanding direct diplomatic
engagement with Iran's government and by offering Iran's leaders an alternative vision of closer
integration with and acceptance by the West. To try to convince Iranian leaders of peaceful U.S.
intent, the Obama Administration downplayed discussion of potential U.S. military action against
Iranian nuclear facilities and has repeatedly insisted that the United States did not directly or
materially support the domestic opposition movement that emerged following Iran's June 12,
2009, presidential election.

Even at the height of the Green movement protests in late 2009, the Obama Administration did
not forego diplomatic options to blunt Iran's nuclear progress and says it remains open to a
nuclear deal if Iran fully accepts a framework Iran tentatively agreed to in multilateral talks on
October 1, 2009. However, Iran did not accept the technical details of this by the notional
deadline of the end of 2009, nor did it adequately respond to international concerns about possible
work on a nuclear weapons program. These concerns led to an Administration shift toward
building a multilateral coalition for additional U.N. sanctions, and apparently prompted the
Defense Department to try to develop additional options for preventing or containing a nuclear
Iran. The Administration efforts bore fruit on May 18, 2010, when it announced an agreement
among permanent members of the U.N. Security Council that would authorize, but not require,
countries to take a number of significant steps against Iran, including inspect ships suspected of
carrying equipment for Iran's nuclear program. The announcement represented a U.S. rejection of
a May 16, 2010, tentative agreement brokered by Brazil and Turkey to implement most features
of the October 1, 2009, agreement.

The newly agreed-to U.N. Security Council sanctions would build on those in place since 2006.
Those sanctions generally are targeted against WMD-related trade with Iran, but also ban Iran
from transferring arms outside Iran and restrict dealings with some Iranian banks. Separate U.S.
efforts to persuade European governments to curb trade with, investment in, and credits for Iran,
and to convince foreign banks not to do business with Iran, are intended to compound the U.N.
pressure. In the 111th Congress, conference action is underway on separate legislation to try to
curb sales to Iran of gasoline, which many Members believe could help pressure Iran into a
nuclear settlement or undermine the regime's popularity even further. Others believe such steps
could help the regime rebuild its support by painting the international community as punitive
against the Iranian people.

Some believe that the domestic opposition, which in late 2009 appeared to pose a potentially
serious challenge to the regime's grip on power, may eventually present the United States with an
opportunity to see the regime replaced or modified substantially. Obama Administration officials
appear to believe that the opposition's prospects are enhanced by a low U.S. public profile on the
unrest. Congressional resolutions and legislation since mid-2009 show growing congressional
support for steps to enhance the opposition's prospects. For further information, see CRS Report
Iran Sanctions, by Kenneth Katzman; CRS Report R40849,
Iran: Regional
Perspectives and U.S. Policy
, coordinated by Casey L. Addis; and CRS Report RL34544,
Nuclear Program: Status
, by Paul K. Kerr.

Date of Report: May 24, 2010
Number of Pages: 65
Order Number: RL32048
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.