Report to Congress on Iran’s Foreign and Defense Policy

September 19, 2018 9:01 AM

The following is the Sept. 11, 2018 Congressional Research Service report Iran’s Foreign and Defense Policies.

From the report

Iran’s national security policy is the product of many overlapping and sometimes competing factors such as the ideology of Iran’s Islamic revolution; perception of threats to the regime and to the country; long-standing Iranian national interests; and the interaction of the Iranian regime’s factions and constituencies. Iran’s leadership:

  • seeks to deter or thwart U.S. or other efforts to invade or intimidate Iran or to bring about a change of regime.
  • has sought to take advantage of opportunities of regional conflicts to overturn a power structure in the Middle East that Iran’s leaders assert favors the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni Muslim Arab regimes.
  • seeks to enhance its international prestige and restore a sense of “greatness” reminiscent of ancient Persian empires.
  • characterizes its support for Shiite and other Islamist movements as helping the region’s “oppressed” and asserts that Saudi Arabia, in particular, is instigating sectarian tensions and trying to exclude Iran from regional affairs.
  • has sought to use the sanctions relief provided by the July 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA) to emerge as a regional energy and trade hub and to negotiate future weapons buys. U.S. officials assert that sanctions easing has provided Iran with additional financial resources to further its regional interventions.
  • sometimes disagrees on tactics and strategies. Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i and key hardline institutions, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), oppose any compromises of Iran’s national security core goals, but support the reintegration into regional and international diplomacy that is advocated by Iran’s elected president, Hassan Rouhani.

Of significant concern to successive U.S. Administrations is Iran’s provision of material support to its allied governments and armed factions such as the Asad regime in Syria, Lebanese Hezbollah, Houthi rebels in Yemen, Iraqi Shiite militias, and Bahraini militant groups. Several of Iran’s allies have conducted acts of international terrorism, and each annual State Department report on international terrorism since the early 1990s has described Iran as the “leading” or “most active” state sponsor of terrorism. Israeli leaders identify Iran’s significant presence in Syria as a growing—and unacceptable—threat to Israel’s security.

The Trump Administration has cited Iran’s regional “malign activities” and repeated ballistic missile tests to assert that “Iran’s provocative actions threaten the United States, [and] the [Middle East] region,” and that the JCPOA failed to address Iran’s objectionable behavior beyond its nuclear program. It was partly on these grounds that President Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA on May 8, 2018, and announced that all U.S. sanctions would be reimposed. The Administration asserts that sanctions will deny Iran the resources to carry out malign activities beyond its borders. Additional aspects of Administration strategy for countering Iran’s malign activities—which include working with partner governments and factions in the region—are enumerated in a report submitted to Congress in late August 2018, a report mandated by the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (P.L. 115-44).


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