Showdown With IranFRONTLINE
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Overview Sites

Both the BBC and The New York Times maintain country profile pages on Iran that provide background information and the latest news.

The BBC's page runs down Iran's vital statistics, its leadership and major media outlets, and it links to BBC special features, including a 2005 chart displaying the government's power structure and a map of Iran's known nuclear sites.

The New York Times' site features more of the most recent news on Iran, as well as background pieces, such as Times reporter James Risen's 2000 series on the CIA's role in the 1953 overthrow of the Iranian government, and reviews of books on Iran, including Vali Nasr's The Shia Revival and Kenneth Pollack's The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America.


Iran's 2003 "Grand Bargain" Offer

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has posted a PDF file of the "grand bargain" fax. Kristof has written about the origins of the offer, which he termed "promising," on his blog. While he concedes the bargain may never have been reached, he writes, "It seems diplomatic mismanagement of the highest order for the Bush administration to have rejected that process out of hand."

Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute is more skeptical of the offer. He wrote in an October 2007 Weekly Standard article that the offer was illegitimate, written not by Iranians but by the Swiss ambassador who faxed it to the United States as a fabricated "Hail Mary pass" to improve relations.

Click here to read more opinions on the "grand bargain," drawn from FRONTLINE's interviews for this report.


Iran and Post-Saddam Iraq

Many officials, including Americans and Iranians interviewed for this report, believe Iran has been the chief beneficiary of America's action in Iraq. That was also the conclusion of an August 2006 report (PDF file) by the London-based Chatham House, and of former U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith. "Of all the unintended consequences of the Iraq war, Iran's strategic victory is the most far-reaching," he wrote in The New York Review of Books in October 2007.

U.S. officials have charged that Iran is actively involved in Iraq, training and arming Shi'a militants who have attacked American troops. New Yorker writer Seymour Hersh reported in the Oct. 8, 2007 issue of the magazine that the administration has shifted its targets -- and rhetoric -- for a potential strike to "Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere, which, the Administration claims, have been the source of attacks on Americans in Iraq. What had been presented primarily as a counter-proliferation mission has been reconceived as counterterrorism."


Diplomacy or Military Action?

Americans and Iranians FRONTLINE interviewed for this report differ on on whether the Bush administration will attack Iran. Washington's foreign policy think tanks are also actively engaged in the debate.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) maintains a a section of its Web site dedicated to Iran, including a debate on whether sanctions will work against Iran's nuclear program and an interview with former U.S. official Flynt Leverett about improving the United States' standing in the Middle East. CFR also features an interactive timeline of U.S.-Iranian relations since World War II.

The Washington Institute on Near East Policy also has an Iran section on its Web site. Several articles analyze events inside Iran, including this explanation of the Revolutionary Guard's role in the regime.

The conservative American Enterprise Institute also collects its articles "the Iranian threat". Reuel Marc Gerecht urges the United States "to be firm" with Iran over its activities in Iraq, while Michael Ledeen downplays the significance of the summer 2007 talks between the U.S. and Iran in Baghdad.

Ultimately, however, a decision on Iran may fall to the next president, and in the 2008 campaign "Tehran has emerged as a preoccupation of candidates -- as a litmus test for attitudes toward war and domestic security," writes Middle East commentator Juan Cole in this Oct. 17, 2007 article on Cole, who also blogs about the Middle East, breaks down the Republican and Democratic candidates' position on Iran, but he also takes a stand against the non-binding resolution urging President Bush to name Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, which overwhelmingly passed the Senate in September. The resolution has divided the Democrats; Hillary Clinton voted for it, but others worry the vote could give Bush to authority to attack Iran.


U.S. Statements/Reports

On Jan. 29, 2002, President Bush delivered his State of the Union address, in which he placed Iran alongside Iraq and North Korea in "an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world."

Five years later, the president addressed the threat from Iran in a Jan. 10, 2007 speech announcing the start of the troop surge in Iraq. "Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops," Bush said. "We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."

The State Department maintains an Iran page updated with news, documents and policy statements. The department also released a 2006 report alleging "significant human rights problems" in Iran, including executions for political dissent and apostasy, torture, sensory deprivation, dismembering or threatening to dismember prisoners, sections of the penal code allowing the stoning of adulterers, and other violations.

Update, Oct. 25, 2007: On Oct. 25, 2007, the Bush administration announced new unilateral sanctions against Iran. Most notably, the administration named Iran's Revolutionary Guard and its Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics "entitites of proliferation concern" regarding weapons of mass destruction. It also targeted the Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force for "providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations." Washington Post writer and longtime Iran observer Robin Wright called the sanctions "the broadest set of punitive measures imposed on Tehran since the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy" and "the first time the United States has tried to isolate or punish another country's military."


President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

The BBC has written a concise biography of Iran's hard-line president. It also features an interactive flow chart of the Islamic Republic's complex political structure. The chart dates from 2005, the year President Ahmadinejad was elected. Click on each office or branch of government to read a description of its powers and limitations.

For Ahmadinejad in his own words, visit the English-language version of his offical Web site, or the full text of his 2006 letter to President Bush -- believed to be the first contact between Iranian and U.S. leaders since the 1979 revolution.

Mike Wallace's 2006 60 Minutes interview with Ahmadinejad gives viewers a glimpse of his confrontational style. You can view the full interview online. Highlights from the interview -- including his thoughts on President Bush, nuclear weapons and Israel -- are also available, along with a written account of the conversation. This September, Ahmadinejad granted 60 Minutes a second interview, this time with reporter Scott Pelley.

Time magazine reporter Scott MacLeod described his 2006 interview with Ahmadinjad as a "boxing match" in this photo essay on the Iranian president. Read the full interview here and view another Time photo essay on Ahmadinejad.

The Iranian president's speech at Columbia University was the most widely reported event of his September 2007 visit to the New York. The question-and-answer session, found in the second half of this transcript, covers Israel, terrorism, women's rights and the president's claim that there are no gay Iranians.

There is some debate among Iran watchers just how much power Ahmadinejad actually wields in Iran. A September 2007 essay from the Washington Institute assessed that the president's power was "slipping" due to "the growing power of former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani" who is critical of Ahmadinejad's policies. But the following month, The New York Times speculated that the resignation of Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator "speaks to a broader consolidation of power for Mr. Ahmadinejad and his allies in domestic affairs."

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posted october 23, 2007

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