Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs
Increasingly strict sanctions on Iran—sanctions that primarily target Iran’s key energy sector and its access to the international financial system—have harmed Iran’s economy to the point where Iran’s public and some of its leaders appear willing to accept international proposals intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program to purely peaceful purposes. The June 14, 2013, election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president is an indication of the growing public pressure on the regime to achieve an easing of sanctions.
- Oil exports fund nearly half of Iran’s government expenditures, and Iran’s oil exports have declined to about 1 million barrels per day—far below the 2.5 million barrels per day Iran exported during 2011. The causes of the drop have been a European Union embargo on purchases of Iranian oil and decisions by other Iranian oil customers to obtain exemptions from U.S. sanctions by reducing purchases of Iranian oil. Twenty countries that buy Iranian oil have exemptions.
- The loss of revenues from oil, coupled with the cut-off of Iran from the international banking system, has caused a sharp drop in the value of Iran’s currency, the rial; raised inflation to over 50%; and reduced Iran’s accumulation of and access to reserves of foreign exchange. Iran’s economy shrank by about 5% since early 2012. There have also been unintended consequences, including a shortage of some advanced medicines.
- Iran has tried, with mixed success, to mitigate the effects of sanctions. Government-linked entities are reportedly creating front companies, and Iranian importers and exporters are increasingly using barter trade and informal banking exchange mechanisms. Iran is also increasing non-oil exports or exports of hydrocarbon products other than crude oil, such as gas condensates. Affluent Iranians have invested in—and driven up prices for—real estate and securities listed on the Tehran stock exchange.
Some in Congress believe that economic pressure on Iran needs to increase. In the 112th Congress, the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-158) made sanctionable the shipping of Iranian crude oil, and it enhanced human rights-related provisions of previous Iran-related laws. A provision of the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 112-239) sanctions transactions with several key sectors of Iran’s economy. A bill in the 113th Congress, H.R. 850, passed by the House on July 31, 2013, would, among other provisions, accelerate the oil purchase reductions required to maintain a sanctions exemption. However, the Administration maintains that new sanctions should not be imposed until Rouhani’s diplomatic overtures on the nuclear issue are tested, and the Administration plans to ease some sanctions if a nuclear deal is reached. For a broader analysis of policy on Iran, see CRS Report RL32048, Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, by Kenneth Katzman.
Date of Report: November 18, 2013
Number of Pages: 80
Order Number: RS20871
For email and phone orders, 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