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Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses

Kenneth Katzman

 Congressional Research Service Report RL32048

A priority of Obama Administration policy has been to reduce the perceived threat posed by Iran to a broad range of U.S. interests. Well before Iran’s nuclear issue rose to the forefront of U.S. concerns about Iran in 2003, the United States had seen Iran’s support for regional militant groups, such as Lebanese Hezbollah, as efforts to undermine U.S. interests and allies. To implement U.S. policy, the Obama Administration has orchestrated broad international economic pressure on Iran to try to compel it to verifiably demonstrate to the international community that its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes. That pressure harmed Iran’s economy, created Iranian domestic sentiment for a negotiated nuclear settlement that would produce an easing of international sanctions, and paved the way for the June 2013 election of the relatively moderate Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran.

Rouhani’s election has also improved prospects for an end to the 34 years of U.S.-Iran estrangement. On September 27, 2013, President Obama and Rouhani spoke by phone—the first leadership level contacts since the 1979 Islamic revolution. In  speeches to the U.N., both presidents indicated that the long era of U.S.-Iran hostility could be ended. The interim nuclear agreement has apparently also eased tensions between Iran and its neighbors in the Persian Gulf region, perhaps even paving the way for resolution of long-standing territorial disputes with the United Arab Emirates. However, like the United States, the Gulf states, Israel, and other regional states appear to be concerned that Iran’s regional ambitions are unchanged.

Rouhani has not, to date, satisfied the aspirations of those Iranians who see his presidency as an opportunity to achieve an easing of repression and social restrictions. His unexpected election win—a result of a large turnout of reform-minded voters such as those who protested the 2009 election results—appeared to demonstrate that support for domestic reform remains strong.