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Iran’s Influence in Afghanistan: Implications for the U.S. Drawdown

July 18, 2014 Comments off

Iran’s Influence in Afghanistan: Implications for the U.S. Drawdown
Source: RAND Corporation

This study explores Iranian influence in Afghanistan and the implications for the United States after the departure of most American forces from Afghanistan. Iran has substantial economic, political, cultural, and religious leverage in Afghanistan. Kabul faces an obdurate insurgency that is likely to exploit the U.S. and international drawdown. The Afghan government will also face many economic difficulties in future years, and Afghanistan is highly dependent on international economic aid. Additionally, the biggest problem facing Afghanistan may be political corruption. Iranian influence in Afghanistan following the drawdown of international forces need not necessarily be a cause of concern for the United States though. Although Tehran will use its cultural, political, and economic sway in an attempt to shape a post-2016 Afghanistan, Iran and the United States share core interests there: to prevent the country from again becoming dominated by the Taliban and a safe haven for al Qaeda.

This study examines Iran’s historic interests in Afghanistan and its current policies in that country, and explores the potential implications for U.S. policy. The research is based on field interviews in Afghanistan, the use of primary sources in Dari and Persian, and scholarly research in English.

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Silenced, Expelled, Imprisoned: Repression of Students and Academics in Iran

June 9, 2014 Comments off

Silenced, Expelled, Imprisoned: Repression of Students and Academics in Iran
Source: Amnesty International

This report is based on research that Amnesty International conducted using a wide range of private and public sources. This included in-depth interviews with more than 50 individuals, both women and men, with direct knowledge of Iran’s universities and system of higher education, including former students and academic teaching staff. Amnesty International has not been permitted to visit Iran for fact-finding and research on the country since shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and thus was unable to investigate conditions at Iran’s universities first hand. However, its interviewees included students and teaching staff who had recently attended or been employed at Iranian universities before fleeing Iran and seeking asylum in Turkey and other countries.

In addition to the interviews, almost all of which were conducted in Persian, Amnesty International compiled further information using questionnaires.

Among public sources, Amnesty International has drawn on information published by the Iranian government, including in submissions to the UN; reports and findings of UN bodies; statements made by Iranian officials; reports of independent non-governmental human rights organizations; and Iranian and international media reports.

New From the GAO

May 23, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Report
Source: Government Accountability Office

Iran: State Leads an Interagency Process to Determine Whether to Impose Sanctions under Section 5(b) of the Iran Sanctions Act. GAO-14-598R, May 23.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-598R

CRS — Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Compliance with International Obligations

May 8, 2014 Comments off

Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Compliance with International Obligations (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

In 2002, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began investigating allegations that Iran had conducted clandestine nuclear activities. Ultimately, the agency reported that some of these activities had violated Tehran’s IAEA safeguards agreement. The IAEA has not stated definitively that Iran has pursued nuclear weapons, but has also not yet been able to conclude that the country’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes. The IAEA Board of Governors referred the matter to the U.N. Security Council in February 2006. Since then, the council has adopted six resolutions, the most recent of which (Resolution 1929) was adopted in June 2010.

The Security Council has required Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA’s investigation of its nuclear activities, suspend its uranium enrichment program, suspend its construction of a heavywater reactor and related projects, and ratify the Additional Protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement. However, Tehran has continued to defy the council’s demands by continuing work on its uranium enrichment program and heavy-water reactor program. Iran has signed, but not ratified, its Additional Protocol. Tehran has limited and reversed some aspects of these programs’ progress since the government began implementing a November 2013 Joint Plan of Action between Iran and China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Iran and the IAEA agreed in August 2007 on a work plan to clarify the outstanding questions regarding Tehran’s nuclear program. Most of these questions have essentially been resolved, but the agency still has questions regarding “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear programme. The IAEA has reported for some time that it has not been able to make progress on these matters.

This report provides a brief overview of Iran’s nuclear program and describes the legal basis for the actions taken by the IAEA board and the Security Council. It will be updated as events warrant.

CRS — Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation

May 1, 2014 Comments off

Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Congress has at times expressed concern regarding ballistic missile and nuclear programs in Iran, North Korea, and Syria. This report focuses primarily on unclassified and declassified U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) assessments over the past two decades. These assessments indicate that

• there is no evidence that Iran and North Korea have engaged in nuclear-related trade or cooperation with each other, although ballistic missile technology cooperation between the two is significant and meaningful, and

• Syria has received ballistic missiles and related technology from North Korea and Iran and also engaged in nuclear technology cooperation with North Korea.

CRS — Achievements of and Outlook for Sanctions on Iran

April 29, 2014 Comments off

Achievements of and Outlook for Sanctions on Iran (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists

Most experts agree that the multilateral sanctions imposed on Iran since 2010 have contributed significantly to producing flexibility in Iran’s position on the scope of its nuclear program. There is similar agreement that the effect of sanctions on Iran’s foreign policy—particularly on its core interests in the Middle East region—and on its human rights practices, appear to have been minimal to date. In assessing effectiveness, however, it is difficult to separate the effect of sanctions from other variables such as Iran’s purported economic mismanagement, attitudes of the Iranian public, and Iranian politics.

Stepping Stone, Stopping Point, or Slippery Slope? Negotiating the Next Iran Deal

April 21, 2014 Comments off

Stepping Stone, Stopping Point, or Slippery Slope? Negotiating the Next Iran Deal
Source: Harvard Business School Working Papers

The November 2013 “interim” nuclear deal between Iran and the “P5 1” — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany — raises challenging questions. Will the initial deal function as a stepping stone toward a more comprehensive deal? Or will it drift into becoming a stopping point that leaves Iran dangerously close to nuclear weapons capability with the sanctions regime in decline? Or will it devolve to a slippery slope that would end up requiring a painful choice for key players between either acquiescing in a nuclear-capable Iran or attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities? With the Iran and the P5 1 each splintered into contending factions, a successful stepping stone strategy requires converting enough “persuadable skeptics” on each side to forge a “winning coalition” on behalf of the a more comprehensive nuclear deal. This supportive group must be strong enough to overcome the potent “blocking coalition” that will oppose virtually any larger, next-stage agreement. The best chance for the interim accord to become a stepping stone to a more valuable deal calls for a two-prong negotiating strategy with both value-enhancing and cost-imposing elements. The first prong of this strategy should strive to craft the most valuable possible next deal that credibly offers Iran a range of benefits, not limited to sanctions relief, that are greater and much more salient than those available from the interim agreement. The second prong should significantly worsen the consequences of failing to reach the next nuclear deal by a strong public U.S. Presidential commitment to sign a bill, prenegotiated with the Congress and P5 1 allies, imposing enhanced sanctions if negotiations toward an acceptable, but relatively narrow, agreement denying Iran an “exercisable nuclear option” do not succeed by the reasonable but firm deadline no later than twelve months from the start of the interim talks.

Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran: Requirements for a Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement

April 9, 2014 Comments off

Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran: Requirements for a Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement
Source: Brookings Institution

After a dozen-year standoff between Iran and the international community over the Iranian nuclear program, negotiations are underway between representatives of Iran, on the one hand, and the P5+1 countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China) and the European Union, on the other, on a comprehensive agreement aimed at ensuring that an Iranian nuclear program declared to be devoted to peaceful purposes will not be turned into a program for producing nuclear weapons.

However, key differences exist on the requirements of an acceptable deal, not just among negotiators at the table but also among key players outside the negotiations. Israeli officials and a number of members of Congress are demanding the elimination of key elements of Iran’s nuclear program, and the Obama administration and its supporters counter that several of those demands are neither achievable nor necessary for a sound agreement.

CRS — Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses (updated)

March 19, 2014 Comments off

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

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. Three rounds of subsequent multilateral talks with Iran achieved a November 24, 2013, interim agreement (“Joint Plan of Action”) that halts the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for modest and temporary sanctions relief. Subsequent negotiations led to a decision to implement the JPA beginning January 20, 2014, and that mutual implementation has proceeded as planned. A framework for talks on the permanent resolution were agreed between Iran and the six negotiating powers on February 20, 2014.

CRS — Iran: U.S. Economic Sanctions and the Authority to Lift Restrictions

February 25, 2014 Comments off

Iran: U.S. Economic Sanctions and the Authority to Lift Restrictions (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The United States has led the international community in imposing economic sanctions on Iran, in an effort to change the government of that country’s support of acts of international terrorism, poor human rights record, weapons and missile development and acquisition, role in regional instability, and development of a nuclear program.

This report identifies the legislative bases for sanctions imposed on Iran, and the nature of the authority to waive or lift those restrictions. It comprises two tables that present legislation and executive orders that are specific to Iran and its objectionable activities in the areas of terrorism, human rights, and weapons proliferation. It will be updated if and when new legislation is enacted, or, in the case of executive orders, if and when the President takes additional steps to change U.S. policy toward Iran.

Other CRS reports address the U.S.-Iran relationship, including a comprehensive discussion of the practical application of economic sanctions: CRS Report RS20871, Iran Sanctions, by Kenneth Katzman. See also CRS Report R43333, Interim Agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program, by Kenneth Katzman and Paul K. Kerr; CRS Report RL32048, Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, by Kenneth Katzman; and CRS Report R40094, Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Compliance with International Obligations, by Paul K. Kerr.

CRS — Iran Sanctions (updated)

January 31, 2014 Comments off

Iran Sanctions (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Strict sanctions on Iran—sanctions that primarily target Iran’s key energy sector and its access to the international financial system—harmed Iran’s economy to the point where Iran’s leaders, on November 24, 2013, accepted an interim agreement the thrust of which is to halt further expansion of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for apparently modest sanctions relief. The June 14, 2013, election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president was an indication of the growing public pressure on the regime to achieve an easing of sanctions.

New From the GAO

January 9, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports and Testimony
Source: Government Accountability Office

Reports

1. Defense Infrastructure: Army Brigade Combat Team Inactivations Informed by Analyses, but Actions Needed to Improve Stationing Process. GAO-14-76, December 11.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-76
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/659631.pdf

2. Iranian Commercial Activities: Foreign Firms Reported to Have Engaged in Certain Activities Involving Iran’s Energy or Communications Sectors.
GAO-14-218R, January 7.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-218R

Testimony

1. Compacts of Free Association: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight and Accountability of U.S. Assistance to Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, by David Gootnick, director, international affairs and trade, before the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs, House Committee on Natural Resources. GAO-14-243T, January 7.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-243T
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/660021.pdf

CRS — Interim Agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program

January 2, 2014 Comments off

Interim Agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

In the early hours of November 24, 2013, in Geneva, Switzerland, Iran and the six powers that have negotiated with Iran about its nuclear program since 2006 (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany—collectively known as the “P5+1”) finalized an interim agreement requiring Iran to freeze many aspects of its nuclear program in exchange for what the Obama Administration calls “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible” relief from international sanctions. The period of the interim deal is to be six months, during which time Iran and the P5+1 will attempt to reach a comprehensive deal on the long-term status of Iran’s nuclear program.

Key Military Decisions in Iraq and Afghanistan Taken with Insufficient Political Direction

November 25, 2013 Comments off

Key Military Decisions in Iraq and Afghanistan Taken with Insufficient Political Direction
Source: Chatham House

The British government decision-making process failed under the pressure of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, operating in a way which was incoherent, inconsistent and opaque, says a new report, Depending on the Right People, British Political Military Relations 2001-10, by James de Waal.

The report challenges the widespread view that Britain’s politicians, notably Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, should bear the sole blame for the country’s military difficulties. It draws on recent evidence, including from the Chilcot Inquiry, to show that Britain instead suffered a wider failure of the government system, with politicians, senior military officers and civil servants all playing their part. It argues that government policy-making must become more systematic in order to avoid repeating these mistakes in future wars.

CRS — Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses

November 15, 2013 Comments off

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

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. Five rounds of multilateral talks with Iran in 2012 and 2013 yielded no breakthroughs but did explore a potential compromise under which Iran might cease producing medium-enriched uranium (20% Uranium-235—a level not technically far from weapons grade) in exchange for modest sanctions relief. International sanctions have harmed Iran’s economy, and the June 14, 2013, first round election victory of a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, appeared to reflect popular Iranian sentiment for a negotiated nuclear settlement that produces an easing of international sanctions.

Rouhani’s election has improved the prospect for a nuclear issue settlement as well as 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—as Rouhani departed a week-long visit to the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York. In their speeches to the Assembly, both President Obama and Rouhani indicated that the nuclear issue could be settled—perhaps within six months—and that the long era of U.S.-Iran hostility could be ended. The week also included the first foreign ministerial meeting between the two countries, and a decision to resume formal political talks on the nuclear issue on October 15-16, 2013. Those talks were productive, by all accounts, and resulted in a decision to meet again November 7-8, 2013, but produced no firm substantive agreements on a short-term or end-stage compromise.

Many Sunnis and Shias Worry About Religious Conflict; Concern Especially High Among Muslims in Lebanon

November 11, 2013 Comments off

Many Sunnis and Shias Worry About Religious Conflict; Concern Especially High Among Muslims in Lebanon
Source: Pew Religion & Public Life Project

This week Sunni and Shia Muslims ushered in the Islamic New Year and the beginning of the holy month of Muharram. For Shias, the month also is a time to mourn the events that sparked the centuries-old schism between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Pew Research Center polls conducted in 2011-2012 find high levels of concern about sectarian tensions in several countries where Sunnis and Shias live side by side. These concerns are particularly pronounced in Lebanon, where fully two-thirds of all Muslims, including about half of Shias and 80% of Sunnis, say sectarian tensions are a very big or moderately big problem. Roughly half of all Muslims in Iraq, more than four-in-ten in Afghanistan and nearly a quarter in Iran say the same.

The polls were conducted from November 2011 to May 2012 among a total of more than 5,000 Muslims in five countries with substantial numbers of both Shias and Sunnis (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon). Although Shias make up only about 10%-13% of the world’s Muslims, three of the five countries surveyed (Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan) have Shia-majority populations. Several of the countries polled also have a recent history of sectarian violence. This includes Lebanon, where a civil war was fought along sectarian lines from 1975 to 1991, and Iraq and Afghanistan, where bombings and other suspected sectarian attacks have occurred in the last few years.

CRS — The Iran Hostages: Efforts to Obtain Compensation

September 10, 2013 Comments off

The Iran Hostages: Efforts to Obtain Compensation (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Even today, after the passage of some three decades, the 1979-1981 Iran Hostage Crisis remains an event familiar to most Americans. Many might be unaware that the 52 American mostly military and diplomatic personnel held hostage in Tehran for 444 days continue to strive for significant compensation for their ordeal. The former hostages and their families did receive a number of benefits under various civil service laws, and each hostage received from the U.S. government a cash payment of $50 for each day held hostage. The hostages have never received any compensation from Iran through court actions, all efforts having failed due to foreign sovereign immunity and an executive agreement known as the Algiers Accords, which bars such lawsuits. Congress took action to abrogate Iran’s sovereign immunity in the case Roeder v. Islamic Republic of Iran, but never successfully abrogated the executive agreement, leaving the plaintiffs with jurisdiction to pursue their case but without a judicial cause of action.

Having lost their bids in the courts to obtain recompense, the former hostages have turned to Congress for relief. This report outlines the history of various efforts, including legislative efforts and court cases, and describes two bills currently before Congress (H.R. 904, S. 559).

Turkish-Iranian Relations in a Changing Middle East

September 4, 2013 Comments off

Turkish-Iranian Relations in a Changing Middle East
Source: RAND Corporation

Turkish-Iranian cooperation has visibly intensified in recent years, thanks in part to Turkish energy needs and Iran’s vast oil and natural gas resources. However, Turkey and Iran tend to be rivals rather than close partners. While they may share certain economic and security interests, especially regarding the Kurdish issue, their interests are at odds in many areas across the Middle East. Turkey’s support for the opposition in Syria, Iran’s only true state ally in the Middle East, is one example. Iraq has also become a field of growing competition between Turkey and Iran. Iran’s nuclear program has been a source of strain and divergence in U.S.-Turkish relations. However, the differences between the United States and Turkey regarding Iran’s nuclear program are largely over tactics, not strategic goals. Turkey’s main fear is that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear arms could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. This, in turn, could increase pressure on the Turkish government to consider developing its own nuclear weapon capability. U.S. and Turkish interests have become more convergent since the onset of the Syrian crisis. However, while U.S. and Turkish interests in the Middle East closely overlap, they are not identical. Thus, the United States should not expect Turkey to follow its policy toward Iran unconditionally. Turkey has enforced United Nations sanctions against Iran but, given Ankara’s close energy ties to Tehran, may be reluctant to undertake the harshest measures against Iran.

Regional Analysis Brief: Caspian Sea Region

August 27, 2013 Comments off

Regional Analysis Brief: Caspian Sea Region
Source: Energy Information Administration

The Caspian Sea region is one of the oldest oil-producing areas in the world and is an increasingly important source of global energy production. The area has significant oil and natural gas reserves from both offshore deposits in the Caspian Sea itself and onshore fields in the Caspian basin. Traditionally an oil-producing area, the Caspian area’s importance as a natural gas producer is growing quickly.

This report analyzes oil and natural gas in the Caspian region, focusing primarily on the littoral (coastal) countries of the Caspian Sea (Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran). A discussion of Uzbekistan is also included. While not a Caspian coastal state, a considerable amount of Uzbekistan’s territory, along with its energy resources, lies in the geological Caspian basins.

Aside from Azerbaijan’s oil production, the Caspian Sea largely was untapped until the collapse of the Soviet Union. With several newly independent countries gaining access to valuable hydrocarbon deposits, the different countries have taken diverging approaches to developing the energy resources of the area. At the same time, the lack of regional cooperation between the countries’ governments and few export options for Caspian hydrocarbon resources have slowed the development of Caspian oil and natural gas resources.

The combination of foreign investment and rising energy prices allowed the coastal countries to shift from diverting oil extraction for local use to supplying both regional and world oil markets. The ability of countries to export greater volumes of Caspian crude oil and natural gas will depend on how quickly domestic energy demand rises in those countries, how quickly they can build additional export infrastructure to global markets, and whether expensive projects to develop Caspian resources can attract sufficient investment.

Country Analysis Brief: Iran

March 29, 2013 Comments off

Country Analysis Brief: Iran
Source: Energy Information Administration

Iran, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), ranks among the world’s top four holders of both proven oil and natural gas reserves. In 2012, Iran saw unprecedented drops in its oil exports as sanctions by the United States (U.S.) and European Union (EU) were tightened, targeting Iranian oil export revenues. Preliminary data show that Iran ranked fifth in terms of crude oil and condensate exports, which was in contrast to its third position only two years ago. Given the sanctions and resulting drop in production, export volumes likely will continue to be hampered.

Iran has the world’s second largest natural gas reserves, but the sector is underdeveloped and used mostly to meet domestic demand. In contrast to the decreasing oil production, natural gas development has been slowly expanding. Nonetheless, natural gas production has been lower than expected as a result of a lack of foreign investment and technology.

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