Iran - United States Policy Toward Iran: a Dossier
What is a Dossier?Via the dossiers, we try to highlight the priorities of the US Government with regard to specific foreign policy policy issues. We provide statements by U.S. public officials, but also reports, hearings, and journal articles.
Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran
President Obama (Mar. 5): "We do not want to see a nuclear arms race in one of the most volatile regions in the world. We do not want the possibility of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorists. And we do not want a regime that has been a state sponsor of terrorism being able to feel that it can act even more aggressively or with impunity as a consequence of its nuclear power.
That's why we have worked so diligently to set up the most crippling sanctions ever with respect to Iran. We do believe that there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution to this issue, but ultimately the Iranians' regime has to make a decision to move in that direction, a decision that they have not made thus far.
And as I emphasized, even as we will continue on the diplomatic front, we will continue to tighten pressure when it comes to sanctions, I reserve all options, and my policy here is not going to be one of containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. And as I indicated yesterday in my speech, when I say all options are at the table, I mean it." more
Major US Government Statements
A select list of major statements with policy value.
Latest US Government Statements
The most recent statements in reverse chronological order.
-10/15/12 Iran Sanctions Source: CRS report for Congress.
-09/28/12 Israel: Possible Military Strike Against Iran's Nuclear Facilities Source: CRS report for Congress.
-09/26/12 Iran's Nuclear Program: Status Source: CRS report for Congress.
-09/18/12 Iran's Nuclear Program: Tehran's Compliance with International Obligations Source: CRS report for Congress.
-09/13/12 Iran Sanctions Source: CRS report for Congress.
-09/05/12 Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses Source: CRS report for Congress.
Iran's Support for Terrorism in the Middle Eas Source: U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 7/25/12
To receive testimony on U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2013 and the Future Years
Defense Program. Source: U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, March 6, 2012.
National Security & Foreign Policy Priorities in the FY 2013 International Affairs Budget. Source: U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 02/28/12
Iran's Influence and Activity in Latin America. Source: U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 02/16/12
-01/23/12 Iran's Threat to the Strait of Hormuz Source: CRS report for Congress.
U.S. Strategic Objectives Towards Iran Source: U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Dec. 1, 2011
Joint Subcommittee Hearing: Iranian Terror Operations on American Soil. U.S. Committee on Homeland Security, Oct. 26, 2011.
Iran and Syria: Next Steps—Part II. Source: U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Oct. 14, 2011. Testimony:
Addressing Potential Threats from Iran: Administration Perspectives on Implementing New Economic Sanctions One Year Late. Source; u.s. Senate Banking Committee, Oct. 13, 2011.
-09/28/11 Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses Source: CRS Report for Congress.
- The Honorable Steve Chabot,
- The Honorable Jeffrey D. Feltman and the Honorable Michael H. Posner,Source: U.S. House, Foreign Affairs, July 27, 2011.
Source: U.S. House, Foreign Affairs Committee, June 23, 2011.
-06/09/11 Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses Source: CRS Report for Congress
-05/25/11 Iran Sanctions Source: CRS Report for Congress
Human Rights and Democratic Reform in Iran Source: U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, May 11, 2011.
-02/23/11 Nuclear Cooperation with Other Countries: A Primer Source: CRS Report for Congress
-02/15/11 Iran's Nuclear Program: Tehran's Compliance with International Obligations Source: CRS Report for Congress
-02/03/11 Iran Sanctions Source: CRS Report for Congress
-01/03/11 The Middle East: Selected Key Issues and Options for the 112th Congress Source: CRS Report for Congress
-04/22/10 Iran's Economic Conditions: U.S. Policy Issues Source: CRS Report for Congress
Iran, the US and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Hossein Mousavian, Survival, Fall 2012, pp. 183-202. "Serious efforts to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East would help Iran become more forthcoming in resolving questions about its own nuclear programme." READ MORE
Keeping Hamas and Hezbollah Out of a War with Iran. Rafael D. Frankel, The Washington Quarterly, Fall 2012, pp. 53-65. "Would an attack on Iran trigger a coordinated response from Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas? The upheaval in the Arab world, including Syria, has reoriented regional geopolitics and presents an opportunity to Israel and the United States if they act quickly." READ MORE
Turkey’s Role in Defusing the Iranian Nuclear Issue. Aylin Gürzel, The Washington Quarterly, Summer 2012, pp. 141-152. "To achieve its desired regional influence, Ankara has sought to settle disputes in its neighborhood, particularly the Iranian nuclear issue. But Turkey resists sanctions and has also realized that active diplomacy is not enough, so what might Ankara do?" READ MORE
Coercive Diplomacy Meets Diversionary Incentives: The Impact of US and Iranian Domestic Politics during the Bush and Obama Presidencies, Graeme A. M. Davies, Foreign Policy Analysis, July 2012, pp. 313–331. "This paper applies theories of strategic conflict avoidance and diversionary war to help explain US–Iranian interactions. The article argues that US attempts at coercive diplomacy have tended to strengthen hardliners in Iran by allowing them to frame opposition to government policies as support for the United States. In particular, US public uncertainty about the advisability of using force against Iran provided both the Supreme Leader and the Iranian President with an opportunity to increase tensions with the United States with little concern about provoking a military strike. The aggressive stance of the Iranian regime is about developing a threat which diverts attention from domestic problems and places it firmly in the arena of the international." READ MORE
Israel’s National Security Amidst Unrest in the Arab World. Ephraim Inbar, The Washington Quarterly, Summer 2012, pp. 59-73. "Despite all the optimism, the Arab uprisings have emphasized the shifting regional balance of power toward Iran and Turkey, not Israel, and the decline of U.S. influence. Israel now faces greater regional isolation, terror, threats to the Eastern Mediterranean sea lanes and energy resources, and the prospects of a nuclear Iran." READ MORE
Why Iran Should Get the Bomb. Kenneth N. Waltz, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2012, var. pages. "U.S. and Israeli officials have declared that a nuclear-armed Iran is a uniquely terrifying prospect, even an existential threat. In fact, by creating a more durable balance of military power in the Middle East, a nuclear Iran would yield more stability, not less." READ MORE
Iran after Ahmadinejad. Banafsheh Keynoush, Survival, June/July 2012, pp. 127-146. "Power struggles and political fragmentation have been endemic to the Islamic Republic of Iran since its founding in 1979. But although internal division may weaken the state, it is unlikely to break it. The multiple pillars of power in the Iranian republic protect it from sudden collapse. Loyalties can easily shift from one pillar to the next, allowing for the emergence of new political identities. Elections in particular – there have been 28 since the 1979 revolution – are a significant catalyst for such changes. The presidential election scheduled for June 2013, which will mark the end of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's second and final four-year term, is unlikely to be very different. Already, the Iranian state has started a modest reinvention of itself as it seeks to transform its image. READ MORE
How to Defuse Iran’s Nuclear Threat: Bolster Diplomacy, Israeli Security, and the Iranian Citizenry. James Dobbins, Dalia Dassa Kaye, Alireza Nader, and Frederic Wehrey, RAND Review, Spring 2012, var. pages. "Our cover story discusses how the United States should address the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, and an accompanying sidebar shows how trends in word usage on Twitter correlated with the protests surrounding the 2009 Iranian presidential election." READ MORE
To Keep the Peace with Iran, Threaten to Strike. Michael Singh, The Washington Quarterly, Spring 2012, pp. 55-69. "Across Europe, countries are passing laws requiring foreign spouses to possess language skills before joining their husbands or wives—creating ever more challenging barriers. James Angelos details the challenges facing Europe’s marriage immigrants, showing how these linguistic hurdles break families apart and alienate migrants in their new homes." READ MORE
Botching the Bomb. Jacques E. C. Hymans, Foreign Affairs, May-June 2012, var. pages. "Nuclear weapons are hard to build for managerial reasons, not technical ones. This is why so few authoritarian regimes have succeeded: they don’t have the right culture or institutions. When it comes to Iran’s program, then, the United States and its allies should get out of the way and let Iran’s worst enemies -- its own leaders -- gum up the process on their own." READ MORE
Israel and Iran: The Grounds for an Israeli Attack. Elliott Abrams, World Affairs Journal, May/June 2012, var. pages. "Elliott Abrams explains the grounds for an Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear weapons program, and for American support of such an attack." READ MORE
Resets, Russia, and Iranian Proliferation. Stephen Blank, Mediterranean Quarterly, Winter 2012, pp. 14-38. “The Obama administration touts the reset policy with Russia as one of its signal achievements in foreign policy. One of the key elements of its argument is Russia’s help with Iran. Upon closer inspection it appears, however, that this support is tenuous and limited. Indeed, we may have reached the end of the line in terms of Russian support for the United States regarding Iranian proliferation of nuclear weapons. Though Russia clearly opposes Iranian nuclearization, it does not regard this as nearly as great a threat as does the United States, and the evidence is quite compelling that Russia sees Iran as a partner against the United States and that the US concessions made to Russia to elicit support against Iran appear to have been excessive.” READ MORE
Showcase of Missile Proliferation: Iran's Missile and Space Programfalse. Uzi Rubin, Arms Control Today, Jan/Feb 2012, pp. 14-20. “Russia strongly resents the European missile defense system and argues that Iran's missile industry is not competent to threaten the West with missiles in the foreseeable future. [...] the issue of Iran's technological competence is at the heart of a major controversy between the United States and Russia.” READ MORE
Between Iran and a Hard Place. Gal Luft, Foreign Policy, March 1, 2012, var. pages. “Forced to choose between high gas prices and a nuclear Iran, Barack Obama could very well remake himself into a war president.”
Obama to Iran and Israel: 'I Don't Bluff'. Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, March 2, 2012, var. pages. “In an exclusive interview with The Atlantic, the president says it's ‘unacceptable’ for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.” READ MORE
Iran’s Declining Influence in Iraq. Babak Rahimi, The Washington Quarterly, Winter 2012, pp. 25-40. “Iran’s influence over Iraq has less to do with the formation of a Shi‘a alliance than with Tehran’s ability to manage Iraq’s internal divisions. In part because of post-2009 Iranian and post-2010 Iraqi politics, Tehran has to date failed to orchestrate these intricacies in its favor.” READ MORE
Containing Iran's Missile Threat. Michael Elleman, Survival, February-March 2012, pp. 119-126. “The breathing space offered by a regional flight-test ban could facilitate cooperation on missile defences and the building of greater trust and confidence between Moscow and Washington.”
After Iraq: The Trigger Doctrine. David McKean, Survival, February-March 2012, pp. 159-174. “An unfounded rush to war is often precipitated by events. The president, Congress, the press and the public would benefit from a benchmark against which to measure the advisability of a military response.” READ MORE
The 2011 uprisings in the Arab Middle East: political change and geopolitical implications. Katerina Dalacoura, International Affairs, January 2012, pp 63–79. “The Arab uprisings of 2011 are still unfolding, but we can already discern patterns of their effects on the Middle East region. This article offers a brief chronology of events, highlighting their inter-connections but also their very diverse origins, trajectories and outcomes. It discusses the economic and political grievances at the root of the uprisings and assesses the degree to which widespread popular mobilization can be attributed to pre-existing political, labour and civil society activism, and social media. It argues that the uprisings' success in overthrowing incumbent regimes depended on the latter's responses and relationships with the army and security services. The rebellions' inclusiveness or lack thereof was also a crucial factor. The article discusses the prospects of democracy in the Arab world following the 2011 events and finds that they are very mixed: while Tunisia, at one end, is on track to achieve positive political reform, Syria, Yemen and Libya are experiencing profound internal division and conflict. In Bahrain the uprising was repressed. In Egypt, which epitomizes many regional trends, change will be limited but, for that reason, possibly more long-lasting. Islamist movements did not lead the uprisings but will benefit from them politically even though, in the long run, political participation may lead to their decline. Finally, the article sketches the varied and ongoing geopolitical implications of the uprisings for Turkish, Iranian and Israeli interests and policies. It assesses Barack Obama's response to the 2011 events and suggests that, despite their profound significance for the politics of the region, they may not alter the main contours of US foreign policy in the Middle East in a major way.” READ MORE
Inside Obama’s World: The President talks to TIME About the Changing Nature of American Power. Fareed Zakaria, Time, January 19, 2012, var. pages. "In an exclusive interview with TIME's Fareed Zakaria, President Obama opens up on Iran, Afghanistan, China and the challenges the U.S. faces in navigating a rapidly changing world." READ MORE READ MORE
Ahmadinejad vs. The Ayatollah. Abbas Milani, The National Interest, July-Aug 2011, var. pp. Ahmadinejad and his oligarch cronies have been having a rough couple of months. The ayatollah is out for blood, and those in “elected” office are under attack. In fact, the dominant narrative taking over the Islamic Republic has lately sounded a great deal more like the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez than the realpolitik of Hans Morgenthau. It has been two months of bizarre allegations of voodoo and venal sins taking place in the offices and homes of the president’s closest aides and confidants—not to mention the far more run-of-the-mill charges of their financial corruption and sweetheart deals in places like Belarus. It has been a time of repeated open threats of the president’s impeachment, the same president who was not too long ago the darling of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, close as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was to the supreme leader’s own ideas and ideals. It has been a time when more than a hundred members of Iran’s parliament, the Majlis, have requested an investigation into the last presidential election and the allegation that 9 million votes were purchased through cash payments from government coffers. Amazing how the tables can turn. Indeed, just like the police chief in Casablanca, these conservative (ayatollah-backing) members of the Majlis are “shocked, shocked” that electoral cheating is going on in Iran. READ MORE
No Way Out: Washington's Iran Policy Options. Philip Giraldi, Mediterranean Quarterly, Spring 2011, pp.1-10. "Washington is confronted by a number of policy issues relating to Iran, most prominently Tehran's nuclear program and the country's role in the region. There is no good US policy fix for dealing with the situation, but the regular invocation by Washington of a military option as a possible solution is not helpful in that an attack on Iran would not resolve any problems in the bilateral relationship and could well make the situation much worse. Negotiations offer the best option, but their success depends on a mutual willingness to compromise on fundamental issues, which has not hitherto been the case. A policy of containment could accept that Tehran might aspire to a weapon and regional hegemony while devising strategies to mitigate and control the threat resulting from those developments. There are flaws in every possible approach, and there is no good policy option for dealing with Iran." READ MORE
Iran's Challenge to the United States in Latin America: An Update. Ely Karmon, American Foreign Policy Interests, 93-98. "This article updates the findings of the author's earlier contribution, Iran Challenges the United States in Its Backyard, in Latin America, which appeared in American Foreign Policy Interests 32, no. 5, by presenting additional evidence that the extensive Iranian and Hezbollah presence and activity in the region are intensifying. The result is an undermining of the strategic position of the United States as well as a diminishment of the capacity of the United Nations to deal effectively with Iran's nuclear ambitions. Consequently, global order in general and the Middle East in particular will be destabilized." READ MORE
Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East: Myth or Reality? Gawdat Bahgat, Mediterranean Quarterly, Winter 2011, pp. 27-40. "Since the early 2000s Iran's nuclear program has been a major focus of international and regional policy. Many policy makers and scholars have expressed their concern that if Iran "goes nuclear" other Middle Eastern countries, particularly Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, will follow suit. This author argues against this conventional wisdom. As a NATO member, Turkey is a special case. The analysis suggests that security is the main reason why countries pursue nuclear weapons. Egypt and Saudi Arabia (along with other Arab countries) have learned how to live with a perceived nuclear Israel. Iran with a nuclear capability, if it happens, would not pose a security threat to either Cairo or Riyadh. In short, the author argues that an Iran with nuclear capability will further destabilize the Middle East and will be a negative development, but it is not likely to make Egypt and Saudi Arabia 'go nuclear.'" READ MORE
The War Over Containing Iran: Can a Nuclear Iran Be Stopped? Dima Adamsky, Karim Sadjadpour, Diane de Gramont, Shahram Chubin, et al. Foreign Affairs, Mar/Apr 2011, pp. 155-168. "The Dangers of a Nuclear Iran (January/February 2011) correctly notes that the early stages of an Iranian-Israeli nuclear competition would be unstable, prompting the question of just how Israeli military strategists would react if and when Iran goes nuclear. A nuclear Iran would likely undermine the foundations of Israeli self-confidence by crossing two 'redlines' in the Israeli strategic psyche. If Israeli decision-makers accept the view that those with their hands on the nuclear triggers in Tehran are reasonable, they will then focus on the following challenges: Iranian proxies acting under a nuclear umbrella, conventional conflict with Iran, and conventional attacks against Israeli strategic targets. In order for Israel to live with a nuclear Iran, its strategic mentality would have to adjust and its leaders would have to grapple with several cognitive dissonances. Given Iran's influence on major US foreign policy challenges -- namely, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israeli-Palestinian peace, terrorism, energy security, and nuclear proliferation -- ongoing channels of communication could help mitigate the risk of escalation and conflagrations." READ MORE
Iran primer. Source: U.S. Institute of Peace, December 2010
The Dangers of a Nuclear Iran: The Limits of Containment. Eric S Edelman, Andrew F Krepinevich, Evan Braden Montgomery, Foreign Affairs, Jan/Feb 2011, pp. 66-82. "Iran's acquisition of a bomb would upend the Middle East. It is unclear how a nuclear-armed Iran would weigh the costs, benefits, and risks of brinkmanship and escalation and therefore unclear how easily Tehran could be deterred from attacking the United States' interests or partners in the Middle East." READ MORE
Connecting the Actual with the Virtual: The Internet and Social Movement Theory in the Muslim World—The Cases of Iran and Egypt. Melissa Y. Lerner, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, December 2010, pp 555–574. "The rapid expansion of Internet use in the Muslim world has called into question what roleif anythis medium can play in political action in these countries. This paper seeks to analyze the extent to which the Internet offers space for an expansion of social movement theory in the Muslim world. It relies on a number of case studies from two Muslim countries, the One Million Signatures Campaign and Weblogistan in Iran, and the Kefaya Movement and Muslim Brotherhood blogging in Egypt. When placing Internet use in the context of political scientist and historian Charles Tilly's repertoire of social movement characteristics (worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment) and political scientist Robert Putnam's theory that the Internet can isolate individual users, it appears that the key to the successful collaboration of the web and social movements is an adaptive dynamic, through which groups function in both the cyber-world and the real world. This paper presents a potential vision for the future of the Internet and Islamic activism based on the assumption that an online element will help generate some of the elements of Tilly's social movement repertoire, particularly if the Internet is used to inspire sympathetic individuals to real world political action." READ MORE
Preserving Non-Democracies: Leaders and State Institutions in the Middle East, Mehran Kamrava, Middle Eastern Studies, March 2010, pp. 251—270. "Authoritarian elites often prolong their tenure in office by engaging in wholesale institutional change. Whether inherited or created from scratch, state institutions in non-democracies are meant to solidify elite cohesion and political control, pacify potential opponents, and create coalitions that support the state. Nevertheless, autocrats keep a watchful eye on these institutions, and if they change internally in directions that may seem threatening to state leaders, the institutions are changed or even disbanded. Change to the institutions of the non-democratic state is caused by a combination of deliberate decisions and institutional crafting by state leaders on the one hand, and by institutional layering and changes initiated from within the institutions rhemselves on the other. As the cases of the National Assembly in Kuwait, the Revolutionary Command Council in Egypt, and the Revolutionary Council in Iran demonstrate, when and if state institutions become inefficient or are seen as a threat by authoritarian leaders, then state leaders once again take control in determining their shape and configuration. Non-democracies are often preserved through purposive institutional change." READ MORE
Obama's Dilemma: Iran, Israel and the Rumours of War. Dana Allin, Steven Simon. Survival, December-January 2011, pp. 15–44. "At the close of 2010, not much of the Obama administration's ambitious Middle East agenda had been accomplished. The most dangerous impasse was in the failure of the administration's attempt at engagement with Iran. Tehran was continuing, albeit with some technical setbacks, to progress towards a nuclear-weapons capability. There is every reason to worry that, in the coming years, Israel will conclude that it is cornered, with no choice but to launch a preventive war aimed at crippling Tehran's nuclear infrastructure. But the rise of the Green Movement in Iran and the events since the its 2009 elections suggest that some of the principles of Cold War containment are relevant to the developing confrontation with Iran. Build up strength and resilience in our allies rather than seeking recklessly to destroy our opponents. Keep the moral high ground and keep our nerve. Contain challenges against us 'by the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force' and be ready to follow up with diplomacy. Do not go off half-cocked into ill-considered wars without understanding whom we are fighting, or how. If these principles are applied with prudence and historical patience, it seems reasonable to look forward to a 'mellowing', if not the radical reform of, an Iranian regime that like the Soviet Union is riddled with contradiction." READ MORE
The Mideast After Iran Gets the Bomb. Bruce Riedel, Current History, December 2010, pp. 370-375. "Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability . . . will be destabilizing and unsettling. But it will not transform the fundamental nature of the military balance of power in the region." READ MORE
Bringing Israel's Bomb Out of the Basement. Avner Cohen, Marvin Miller, Foreign Affairs, Sep/Oct 2010, pp. 30-44. "In the shadow of the Holocaust, Israel made a determined effort to acquire nuclear weapons. However, just as fear of genocide is the key to understanding Israel's nuclear resolve, that fear has also encouraged nuclear restraint. After all, if Israel's enemies also acquired the bomb, the Jewish state might well face destruction, given its small size and high population density. This combination of resolve and restraint led to a code of nuclear conduct that is fundamentally different from that of all other nuclear weapons states. The policy and practice of nuclear opacity was codified in 1969 in an extraordinary secret accord between Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and US Pres Richard Nixon. In Israel, for government officials, security analysts, and even the general public, nuclear opacity is one of the Jewish state's greatest strategic and diplomatic success stories. In Israel, opacity is viewed almost universally as the most prudent response Israel could have fashioned to its nuclear dilemma." READ MORE
The Point of No Return. Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, September 2010, var. pp.
For the Obama administration, the prospect of a nuclearized Iran is dismal to contemplate— it would create major new national-security challenges and crush the president’s dream of ending nuclear proliferation. But the view from Jerusalem is still more dire: a nuclearized Iran represents, among other things, a threat to Israel’s very existence. In the gap between Washington’s and Jerusalem’s views of Iran lies the question: who, if anyone, will stop Iran before it goes nuclear, and how? As Washington and Jerusalem study each other intensely, here’s an inside look at the strategic calculations on both sides—and at how, if things remain on the current course, an Israeli air strike will unfold. READ MORE