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Framing a sustainable and achievable strategy toward Iran will be a high priority for the next administration. Iran is a country of intrinsic geopolitical consequence. But four decades of estrangement between Washington and Tehran have been costly to regional security, and Iran’s revolutionary leaders still see the United States and its regional friends as adversaries. Efforts to change the fundamental dynamic in US-Iranian relations have faltered over the decades, due to mistrust and misreading of the other’s intentions. The next president has an opportunity to move the US-Iran relationship in a more positive direction, building on the Obama administration’s 2015 achievement of a nuclear agreement.

In the sixth Atlantic Council Strategy Paper, A New Strategy for US-Iran Relations in Transition, Ellen Laipson presents a new strategy to reduce prospects for a military confrontation with Iran; improve the regional security environment by working with trusted partners and with Iran; and, eventually, enable Iran and the United States to build cooperation in diverse areas of shared concern.

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Following the lifting of sanctions on Iran's all-important gas and oil sector, Tehran will seek to develop an "economy of resistance" by building out commercial relationships that increase other states' reliance on it, Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Dr. Sara Vakhshouri argues in Iran's Energy Policy After the Nuclear Deal.

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Despite the sectarian barbs traded between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Iran's unique ability to meet the kingdom's fast growing demand for electricity may help spur a reconciliation, according to the Atlantic Council's Jean-François Seznec. In his report Crude Oil for Natural Gas: Prospects for Iran-Saudi Reconciliation, Seznec argues that the two dominant energy producers do not necessarily need to see their energy production as competition.

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Concerns in the United States and its traditional Middle Eastern allies about Iran's expanding regional role in the aftermath of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reached between Iran and the P5+1 on July 14, 2015, fail to take into consideration a significant debate within the Iranian policy elite. In "Iran Debates Its Regional Role," University of Tehran Professor Nasser Hadian dispels commonly held myths about Iran and its regional goals, and presents a native perspective of Iran's threat calculations and the resulting spectrum of policy perspectives.

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Deal or no deal, Iran will still pose a destabilizing nuclear security threat, writes Senior Fellow Matthew Kroenig.

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As worldwide attention focuses on the international negotiators rushing to finish a nuclear deal with Iran before a self-imposed November 24 deadline, we are in danger of overlooking the fact that Iran's extant nuclear capability already presents several serious threats to international security at present and will continue to do so even if the negotiations are extended or we successfully conclude a comprehensive nuclear deal. Regardless of the outcome on November 24, Iran will remain a nuclear weapon threshold state and this capability threatens to increase the risk of nuclear proliferation around the globe, destabilize regional security dynamics, and weaken political freedom and human rights inside Iran.

Mitigating the Security Risks Posed by a Near-Nuclear Iran, the latest Issue in Focus by Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security Nonresident Senior Fellow Matthew Kroenig, identifies the potential threats posed by a near-nuclear Iran and provides concrete policy recommendations for mitigating them even as we continue coordinated efforts to keep Tehran from the bomb.

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As negotiations resume today in Vienna between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, the Atlantic Council's Iran Task Force introduces two papers that outline options for unwinding US and European sanctions against Iran—a key element of any long-term agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear program. 

Easing US Sanctions on Iran,” by Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Service, examines actions the United States could take to wind down sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic beginning with the 1979 revolution and ratcheted up over the past decade as a means to deter the development of Iran’s nuclear program.

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In a new issue brief, “Turkish-Iranian Rapprochement and the Future of European and Asian Energy,” Pinar Dost-Niyego and Orhan Taner of the Atlantic Council’s Turkey office outline how Turkey and Iran’s developing relationship is a key consideration in analyses of European and Asian energy security. They argue Turkish-Iranian relations, in which energy plays an important role, should be seen in the context of EU energy needs and dynamic US energy interests. The evolution of the Iranian-Turkish relationship has implications for nuclear discussions and sanctions against Iran, the US withdrawal from the Middle East, American shale gas development, and the US foreign policy “pivot to Asia.”

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Cautious Domestic Reforms and Nuclear Breakthrough

After eight turbulent years during which conservatives monopolized Iranian politics, the election of centrist cleric Hassan Rouhani on June 14, 2013, marked a new chapter in post-revolutionary Iranian politics. In the latest Iran Task Force issue brief, "Rouhani’s First One Hundred Days: Cautious Domestic Reforms and Nuclear Breakthrough," authors Yasmin Alem and Barbara Slavin examine Rouhani's policies through the recent nuclear deal, what the accord signals for the future of comprehensive negotiations, and what steps the United States can take to encourage more centrist policies in Iran.

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Iran, Afghanistan, and South Asia

While attention focuses on US nuclear talks with Iran, an improved US-Iran relationship could have major benefits for another US priority: shoring up stability in Afghanistan during the 2014 withdrawal of most US and NATO forces. A new South Asia Center issue brief by Fatemeh Aman and Barbara Slavin, “Iran, Afghanistan, and South Asia: Resolving Regional Sources of Instability,” examines Iran’s relations with its eastern neighbors and suggests steps to deal with acute challenges -- including scarce and poorly managed water resources, energy imbalances, ethnic insurgencies, and drug traffickin -- that could be alleviated by US-backed regional solutions.

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The Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force and Cyber Statecraft Initiative have colaunched a new issue brief entitled “Iran: How a Third Tier Cyber Power Can Still Threaten the United States.” Written by South Asia Center Senior Fellow Barbara Slavin and Cyber Statecraft Initiative Director Jason Healey, the brief evaluates Iran’s cyber warfare capabilities and the United States’ vulnerability to cyber attacks within the context of already tense relations between the two nations.

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