Iran
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All Issues
  Iran
    The Origin
    U.S. - Iranian Relationship
      The Coup
      The Revolution
      The Hostage Crisis
    The Present
    Central Issues
      Nuclear Program
      U.S. Citizen Detainment
      Iran-Israel Conflict
    Candidates' Positions on Iran
 




The Origin
The Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the oldest nations in existence today. It was a contemporary of the ancient Greek and Mesopotamian empire in an earlier incarnation, and has been known by numerous names throughout its over 6,000 years of existence, most notably as Persia and Eranshahr (Kingdom of the Aryans) of the Partho-Sasanian era, which is the origin of its present name.

At its peak, the Persian empire encompassed practically the whole known world at the time, ranging from Western Europe to Eastern Asia, and the Urals to Northern Africa. The ancient Greek philosopher, Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484BC-425BC), wrote in his famed 'Histories' that the Persians were of the Pasargadae ancestry, whose roots can be traced back to the kingdom of Ansan of King Cambyses the Elder, who themselves were descendants of the Sumerians and Akkadians of ancient Mesopotamia.

“Now the Persian nation is made up of many tribes. Those which Cyrus assembled and persuaded to revolt from the Medes were the principal ones on which all the others are dependent. These are the Pasargadae, the Maraphians, and the Maspians, of whom the Pasargadae are the noblest. The Achaemenidae, from which spring all the Perseid kings, is one of their clans.”

Herodotus’ The Histories (circa 420BC), translated by George Rawlinson (1812-1902, the Professor of Ancient History at Oxford)

U.S. - Iranian Relationship
Our relationship with Iran is much more complex than what the media commonly portrays, and would probably take the next hundred pages to be explained conclusively in its entirety. However, three significant post-World War II events are attributable to the current state of affairs between the two nations.

The Coup
In 1953, both the CIA and MI6 (British Secret Intelligence Service) engineered a coup in Iran that saw to the ouster of democratically elected Iranian Premier Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq from power. The coup d’etat was a direct result of Dr. Mossadeq’s decision to nationalize the Iranian oil industry at the expense of their former colonial master, Britain. The country’s oil industry was until then under the control of the British government, chiefly through Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (a precursor to British Petroleum, BP).

The operation, code named TPAJAX, remained largely a secret until a FOIA lawsuit by the National Security Archive against the CIA in the late 1990s resulted in the release of over 200 pages of documents that detailed the covert actions undertaken by the two intelligence agencies, in collaboration with the Iranian monarch (King Mohammad Reza Pahlavi), a segment of the Muslim clergy, and members of the Iranian military. The operation, funded with a reputed $5m off the books' budget, was headed by Kermit Roosevelt Jr., the grandson of our 26th President, Teddy Roosevelt.

Roosevelt Jr., chief of the CIA's Near East and Africa Division (Directorate of Plans) at the time, would later reveal in his 1979 book, Countercoup, that he was inserted in Iran using the assumed identity of James Lockridge, a tennis-playing embassy jock. Aided by a lone handler, he needed two coups to successfully overthrow Mossadeq, in what many would later termed as two of the most complex and daring coup ever organized.

Roosevelt Jr. also explained that the coup was necessary to counter the growing threat posed by Army strongman, General Fazlollah Zahedi. Zahedi, a critic of the Mossadeq administration, was believed to be actively courted by agents representing the Soviet Union. He eventually threw his support behind the Anglo-American coup after being promised the Premiership, but was ultimately left shortchanged after constitutional changes shifted the balance of power back to the palace. Mossadeq, meanwhile, was sentenced to death for treason shortly thereafter by the Zabedi’s administration, but the sentence was commuted to a three-year jail term, and upon his release, he was confined to house arrest until his death in 1967.

The Revolution
In the decades following the elevation of King Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as the Shah of Iran, successive American administrations (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford) worked towards transforming the country into a modern democracy, and in the process, establishing another long term ally in the Middle East.

However, as the years progressed, the Shah of Iran became increasingly despotic and authoritative. Using the dreaded state secret police, SAVAK (National Intelligence and Security Organization), the Shah effectively governed the country with imperial decree and railroaded any opposition with jail time, torture and in some cases, assassination. An argument could be made that these actions were, in fact, perpetrated by a small palace hierarchy, consisting of sycophants and opportunists with vested personal interests, holding enormous influence over the executive and legislative branch. Either way, the Palace lost the support of the ruling elite and gradually, the populace.

The King, nevertheless, played his part well, presenting himself as a benign and progressive monarch to their great ally, the United States, and the international community. He cemented his growing reputation as a statesman by introducing the White Revolution, signaling the arrival of a slew of reforms, primarily in the economic and social sector. The United States, to a certain extent, understood the gamesmanship of the King, but their hands were tied. Withdrawing their support of the Shah could potentially cripple the government and accord the opportunity for the socialist-leaning opposition to take advantage of the situation. With the world still in the thick of the Cold War, the United States could not allow the Soviet Union with the opportunity to gain a foothold in the region.

However, unbeknownst to both the King and the United States, the reforms were looked upon critically by the powerful religious class. The introduction of voting rights for women and family protection laws were a particular source of anger for the Muslim clerics, as it challenged the supremacy of the Sharia’ law and conveyed the idea that women possessed the same rights as men. The sight of a rising number of working women walking around in Teheran without a veil or a male escort, mingling with their male counterparts, greatly angered the Muslim fundamentalists.

Criticisms of the White Revolution reached a crescendo over a failed land reform act. Plans for vast hereditary and tribal lands to be redistributed to the rural farming population failed spectacularly. Middlemen, cronies and corrupt officials skewed the process, raising the ire of the affected landowners and the general population, especially after revelations that extended members of the royal family were also among the recipient.

The United States, long viewed as the patron of the King and the palace, received a share of the blame too, and were increasingly being portrayed in public rallies by clerics and the opposition as the villain of the play, accused of forcibly attempting to indoctrinate the citizens with immoral Western agenda. The CIA, incredibly, failed to accurately predict the strength of the opposition movement, and the subsequent overthrow of the monarchy by Islamic fundamentalists took the Carter administration by surprise. A 15 month, topsy-turvy, bloody, and exiled-ridden revolution concluded in 1979 with the ascension of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the first Supreme Leader of a theocratic Iran.

The Hostage Crisis
The venomous anti-American sentiment continued to grow in Iran, typified by the frequent and increasingly vitriolic demonstrations in front of the American embassy in Teheran. However, things took a turn for the worse when the United States allowed their deposed ruler, the ailing King Reza Pahlavi, to enter the country for medical treatment.

The former Shah’s arrival in New York on October 22, 1979, triggered renewed criticisms from Muslim fundamentalist groups in Iran and factions within the newly established revolutionary government. The increasingly aggressive protests at the embassy were headed and partly coordinated by the Muslim Students of the Imam Khomeini Line (MSIKL), an organization under the direct influence of the soon to be appointed Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The students, along with a number of transitional government leaders, publicly expressed fears that the United States was secretly engineering another coup, and the King’s presence on American soil was testament to this. Privately, however, the fundamentalists were using the incident to harness public sentiment into their favor and casting the United States into the role of bogeyman, the ’Great Satan’. The tide of public opinion also assisted the fundamentalist Muslims in their behind-the-scenes power struggle against the moderate and secular factions of the revolutionary government. The MSIKL, under the leadership of students with direct ears to Ayatollah Khomeini, demanded for the former Shah to be repatriated to Iran and all of his assets to be frozen and returned to the people. However, revelations over the last three decades have shown that even as the demands were made, plans were already underway for the storming of the U.S. embassy.

On the fateful morning of November 4, 1979, 3,000 demonstrators, with the tacit support of the Iranian police and army who were ’guarding’ the American embassy, easily overwhelmed the skeletal force of Marines present in the compound. A total of 90 people, including 66 American embassy officials (three American officials at the Foreign Ministry office were also detained and subsequently driven to the compound) and their families, were captured by the students. 38 of the hostages were released within the next two weeks on various grounds, leaving a final tally of 52 hostages. The students warned that any attempts to rescue the hostages would result in their immediate deaths.

The incident shocked Americans and the international community. Two of the most sacrosanct aspect of international diplomatic relations, the sovereignty of an embassy and diplomatic immunity, were blatantly violated. The Iranian government, after a lukewarm statement distancing themselves from the hostage takers, threw their weight behind the students soon after the resignation of provisional Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini defended the students and praised their courage on national T.V.

The hostage crisis lasted for 444 days, and was punctuated with a series of international sanctions against Iran, the death of the former Shah of Iran, a disastrous rescue effort by the Americans and perhaps most importantly, the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. Iran finally caved in to pressure, and facilitated by peacemaker Algeria, the Algiers Accord was signed on January 20, 1981. All the hostages were officially released the following day.

The Present
Iran is the eighteenth largest country in the world, measuring approximately 636,372 square miles in size, just 5% smaller than Alaska's 663,267 square miles making it the second largest nation in the Middle East. It is inhabited by a multi-ethnic, but predominantly Muslim (Shiite), population of 78.4 million. The mountainous land shares its borders with seven countries (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan) and is fenced by the Persian Gulf on the South, the Gulf of Oman on its South East, and the Caspian Sea on the North. The capital is Tehran, an ancient, sprawling city of eight million that is the political and commercial hub of the nation.

Iran is host to a complex and unusual political system which combines Islamic theocracy with democracy. The country is headed by a Supreme Leader, which is the most powerful position in the country. The office is presently held by Ayatollah-Ozma (The Great Sign of God) Ali Hoseyni Khāmenei, who heads the 12-man Council of Guardians is the de-facto ruling body of the nation. The position has no term limitation, and its appointment (and dismissal) falls under the responsibility of the 86 elected members of the Majles-e Khobregan (Assembly of Experts). The Supreme Leader is by default the leader of the country’s Islamic faith and commander in chief of the armed forces. A popularly elected president heads the country’s executive branch and manages its day to day affairs. The current president is Hassan Rouhani, who, contrary to popular belief, has a very limited executive authority in determining the nation’s domestic or foreign policies.

Iran’s main source of foreign income is from petroleum. It produces approximately 4 million barrels of oil a day, accounting for 5.1% of global production, only behind Saudi Arabia. It has the fourth largest proven oil reserves in the world (153.6 billion barrels), and second largest proven natural gas reserves (33.6 trillion cubic meters). Nevertheless, oil production has been decreasing from its pre 1979 Revolution peak. A combination of international sanctions, lack of local and foreign investments, restrictive exploration and developmental policies, and a conscious attempt to keep a tight rein on any OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) quota increase have been cited as some of the main reasons for the almost 40% drop in production. Iran’s economy is heavily oil-reliant, with reports in 2006 of 45% of the government’s budget dependent on it. In 2012 Iran was subject to economic sanctions which involved the embargo against Iranian crude oil. This depreciated the country’s current economy significantly, as of early 2012; one US dollar was worth 16000 rials compared to today’s exchange of 29958 rials. Despite these shortcomings, Iran’s government and military sectors continue to intensify suggesting neglect on the public sector.

The Iranian leadership has long been accused of state-sponsored terrorism. There have been documented and anecdotal evidence that their military, one of the most experienced and battle hardened in the region. Iran is renowned for harboring, recruiting and training members of terrorist organizations, such as the Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as providing munitions and logistical support. However, their armed forces suffers from endemic and long term infrastructural neglect, and require a huge amount of reinvestment to bring it up to par to other countries in the region. Their major source of weaponries in recent years has been the Chinese and Russians. The United States respond to this ongoing threat under Executive Order 13224 which authorizes the U.S. Treasury to block the assets of foreign individuals and entities that commit or pose a significant risk to committing acts of terrorism. An aggregate of this order are the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) whom domestically promote Iran’s social policy. In August 2012 Ayatollah Ali Khamenei commanded the IRGC to increase terrorism attacks due to Iranian government perceiving their interests as threatened by United Nations sanctions and western support of Syrian opposition.

Intelligence agencies have revealed the Iranians of attempting to embark on a high-tech weapons program, including nuclear, which has led to an international outcry, resulting in severe sanctions being placed on the country. Iran continues to deny these allegations and insists that their nuclear program is designed purely for energy generation purposes. Iran’s nuclear development was initially assisted by the ‘Atoms For Peace’ program in 1953 which enabled Iranians to receive scientific and technological education in the United States. Later in 1991 China was responsible supplying Iran with uranium hexafluoride and heavy water reactors without declaration to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), this lead to a widespread increase of nuclear research facilities within the 1990s. Russian research and design firm NIKET also helped to shape Iran’s nuclear program by providing advanced fuel rod and reactor designs. Iran’s potential nuclear capabilities are the result of foreign influence and aggravation between superpowers. As Harvard arms expert Jeffrey Lewis stated, “It’s not the international community’s fault for helping Iran exercise its right in the past. It’s Iran’s fault for not living up to its safeguards obligations”.

On April 2, 2015, Iran began working with international negotiators from the United States, China, France, Britain and Russia to decrease its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98%. Later that month, President Hassan Rouhani announced he would only sign a final nuclear agreement if economic sanctions were lifted on the first day of implementation. On July 14th Iran negotiated a deal to reduce the number of Iranian centrifuges by two thirds in return for banning uranium enrichment at several key facilities.

Central Issues

Nuclear Program
Nuclear weapon development in Iran is claimed to be deteriorating thanks to aggressive foreign intervention through regular negotiations. The UN Security Council has passed multiple resolutions demanding that Iran halt its enrichment activities. Negotiations failed during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but have progressed positively under President Hassan Rouhani. On July 14, 2015 after several months of negotiations in Geneva, Iran agreed on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This plan defined the scope of the Iranian nuclear weapon program and the lifting of international sanctions. The JCPOA was passed in the U.S. Congress on September 10th, 2015 when Senate Democrats voted against a Republican Resolution of Disapproval. It is likely that members of the Senate will remain fixed to this decision and the president is clear to begin lifting sanctions.

In a 2011 report to Congress by the Director of National Intelligence, Iran’s biological and chemical warfare capabilities were assessed. U.S. intelligence reports that Iran was likely to have stockpiled blood, blister, choking and possibly nerve agents during the Iran-Iraq War (1982–1988). In November 1997, Iran ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and was an active participant in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). After ratifying the CWC, Iran opened its facilities to international inspection and claimed all offensive biological and chemical activities had been terminated and the facilities destroyed.
The country is currently under pressure from the United Nations Security Council which agreed with Iran to not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. On August 22, 2015 Iran unveiled a short-range solid fuel ballistic missile that the government says can more accurately pinpoint targets.

President Hassan Rouhani stated “We will buy weapons from anywhere we deem necessary, we won’t wait for anybody’s permission for approval and won’t look at any resolution and we will sell weapons to anywhere we deem necessary.” These recent actions could be perceived as a lack of respect towards Iran’s agreed deal with western leaders and suggest further negotiations are required to alleviate Iran’s governmental instability.

U.S. Citizen Detainment
Iran is recognized for the detainment of several American citizens shortly after trade sanctions were imposed. On July 31st, 2009, three Americans, Joshua Fattal, Sarah Shourd and Shane Bauer were taken into custody by Iranian border guards for entering into Iran whilst hiking close to the Iranian border in Iraqi Kurdistan. Following the hiker’s capture, they were escorted to the Evil House of Detention and claimed the three were spies. Despite this claim, the Iranian government was never able to offer any evidence to support its contention. The detainees were subject to solitary confinement for over one year and were eventually released when the Sultan of Oman paid nearly $1.5m USD to bail out the hikers.

Currently Iran is holding at least three U.S. citizens: Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, former U.S Marine Amir Hekmati and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini. Abedini has been imprisoned since 2012 for preaching Christianity whilst Rezaian and Hekmati have been labeled by the government as spies. The United States currently holds 19 Iranian citizens in prison, all on charges against Iran’s nuclear program. The detainee situation is currently at deadlock with critics suggesting the Iranian nuclear deal could have been used to leverage releases.

Iran-Israel Conflict
Iran has been in involved on an ongoing conflict between Israel since 3rd August, 2005. The ‘Israel-Iran proxy war’ is bound in the political struggle of Iranian leadership against Israel and the counter aim of Israel to prevent nuclear weapons from the Iranian government and to downgrade support to Hezbollah. Iran continues to regard Israel as the “Zionist regime” and refuses to acknowledge Israel as a state. Hezbollah have been supplied with substantial amounts of financial, training, weapons, explosives, political, diplomatic and organization aid whilst pressuring action to be made against Israel. Since 2010 Hezbollah has received $400 million from Iran. The conflict is currently persistent with alternating skirmishes across the Israeli and Syrian border.

Candidates' Positions on Iran


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