The following is the Jan. 8, 2018 Congressional Research Service report, Iran: Politics, Human Rights and U.S. Policy.
From the Report:
Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, the United States and Iran have been at odds politically and diplomatically. 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 potential for Iran to 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—pressure that contributed to the June 2013 election of the relatively moderate Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran and the eventual negotiation of a “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA). The JCPOA, which began formal implementation on January 16, 2016, exchanged broad sanctions relief for nuclear program limits intended to ensure that Iran would require at least a year to produce a nuclear weapon after a decision to do so.
President Obama asserted that the implementation of the JCPOA presented an opportunity to construct a new and more positive U.S. relationship with Iran. However, Iran has continued to test ballistic missiles; maintained support for regional movements such as Hamas, Lebanese Hezbollah, and Houthi rebels in Yemen; arrested additional U.S.-Iran dual nationals; and conducted high-speed intercepts of U.S. naval vessels in the Persian Gulf. The Trump Administration has characterized Iran as an adversary of the United States and on October 13, articulated a U.S. policy commitment to countering Iran’s regional influence, curbing its ballistic missile program, and addressing the nuclear-related deficiencies of the JCPOA. Administration officials have not articulated a hope or intent to develop an improved relationship with the
existing regime in Iran.
Some inside and outside successive Administrations have asserted that U.S. concerns stem from the nature and ideology of Iran’s regime. Successive administrations have sought to promote civil society in Iran, perhaps in the hopes of stimulating significant opposition to the regime. Successive U.S. Administrations, including the Trump Administration, have expressed hope that the Iranian public might be able to achieve at least significant political evolution in Iran, while stopping short of adopting policies that specifically seek to overthrow Iran’s regime. U.S. officials have long expressed a broad range of concerns about Iran’s human rights abuses, including its
repeated detentions of U.S.-Iran dual nationals. Recent international criticism of Iran’s human rights record has centered particularly on increases in the pace of executions. Whereas hardliners continue to control the state institutions that are responsible for such abuses, public support for moderate and reformist figures that seek to promote free expression and international engagement appears strong. One moderate, Hassan Rouhani, has demonstrated this support by winning clear
victories in two successive presidential elections, in June 2013 and again on May 19, 2017. In the May 2017 vote, reformist and moderate candidates won overwhelmingly in concurrent municipal council elections in all the major cities, including Tehran. Still, the political successes of moderate candidates have not eliminated deep-seated grievances in Iranian society, as demonstrated by significant unrest that erupted all over Iran during late December 2017-January 2018.