Sunday, April 9, 2017

Iran: Politics, Human Rights and U.S. Policy

Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, a priority of U.S. policy has been primarily to reduce the perceived threat posed by Iran to a broad range of U.S. interests. U.S. officials also express a broad range of concerns about Iran’s human rights abuses, particularly its continued arrests and detention of U.S.-Iran dual nationals. During the 1980s and 1990s, U.S. officials identified Iran’s support for militant Middle East groups as the primary threat posed by Iran to U.S. interests and allies. Iran’s nuclear program took precedence in U.S. policy after 2002 as the program expanded and the chances that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon increased. Beginning in 2010, the United States orchestrated broad international economic pressure on Iran to persuade it to agree to strict limits on the program. The pressure might have contributed to the June 2013 election of the relatively moderate Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran, whose government subsequently negotiated a November 2013 interim nuclear agreement and then the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA), which was finalized on July 14, 2015. The JCPOA, which began formal implementation on January 16, 2016, exchanged broad sanctions relief for nuclear program limits intended to give the international community confidence that Iran would require at least a year to produce a nuclear weapon if it decided to do so.
President Obama has asserted that the implementation of the JCPOA presents an opportunity to reduce the long-standing U.S.-Iran enmity and construct a new relationship. However, Iran has continued to test ballistic missiles, sought new conventional arms from Russia, maintained support for regional movements and factions such as Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and Lebanese Hezbollah, insisted on additional sanctions relief, arrested additional U.S.-Iran dual nationals, and threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if Iran is attacked. These actions have prevented any broader rapprochement between Iran and the United States and Iran and the Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman).
Domestically, Rouhani and the JCPOA appear to have broad support, but many Iranians say they also want greater freedoms of expression and assembly. Rouhani’s public support was demonstrated by the strong showing of moderate conservative candidates in the elections for the parliament and a key clerical body, which were completed on April 29. The results appeared to strengthen Rouhani but might still not render him able to limit hardliner control of the state institutions that curb dissent and free expression. His political popularity will be tested at the next Iranian presidential elections scheduled to be held on May 19, 2017. The United States has supported programs to promote civil society in Iran, but successive U.S. administrations have stopped short of adopting policies that specifically seek to overthrow Iran’s regime.

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