Religion(s): The official religion is Shi'a Islam. The majority of the population are Muslims, approximately 91% are Shi'a, 8% are Sunni. The rest are mainly Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian or Bahá'í
Currency: £1 = 15,525 (April 2004) Iranian Rials (10 Rials=1 Toman)
Government: Islamic Republic
Head of State: Supreme Leader Ayatollah 'Ali Khamenei
President: Dr Mahmud Ahmadinezhad
Foreign Minister: Manuchehr Mottaki
Membership of international groups/organisations: Customs Co-operation Council (CCC), CP, Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO), Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Group of 19 (G-19), Intergovernmental Group of 24 (G-24), Group of 77 at the United Nations (G-77), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), International Criminal Court (ICC), International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (ICRM), International Development Association (IDA), Islamic Development Bank (IDB), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), International Finance Corporation (IFC), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRCS), International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO), International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Maritime Organisation (IMO), International Maritime Satellite Organisation (Inmarsat), International Telecommunications Satellite Organisation (Intelsat), International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol), Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), International Organisation for Migration (IOM observer), International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Non Aligned Movement (NAM), Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Organisation for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), United Nations (UN), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), Universal Postal Union (UPU), World Confederation on Labour (WCL), World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), World Health Organisation (WHO), World Meteorological Organisation (WMO)
The present Constitution was adopted after the 1979 revolution. It stipulates that Iran is an Islamic Republic and the teachings of Islam are to be the basis of all political, social and economic relations.
Overall authority is vested in the Supreme Leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is chosen by the Assembly of Experts, an elected body of 96 religious scholars chosen from all over Iran. The Supreme Leader is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.
The executive branch is headed by a President, elected by universal adult suffrage for a term of four years and is restricted by the Constitution to no more than two terms in office.
Legislative powers are held by the Majles consisting of 290 elected members who represent regional areas or religious communities for a four-year term. Iranian Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews have dedicated Majles representatives. All legislation passed by the Majles is sent to the Council of Guardians for approval. The Majles also approves the members of the Council of Ministers, the Iranian equivalent of the UK's Cabinet, who are appointed by the President.
The Council of Guardians reviews legislation passed by the Majles for constitutionality and adherence to Islamic law. It is composed of six theologians appointed by the Supreme Leader and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by the Majles. The Council of Guardians also has the power to veto candidates for the Majlis, local councils, the Presidency and the Assembly of Experts.
The Council for the Discernment of Expediency was created in 1988 to resolve disputes over legislation between the Majles and the Council of Guardians. In August 1989 it became an advisory body on national policy and constitutional issues for the Supreme Leader. It is currently led by former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and includes the heads of all three branches of government and the clerical members of the Council of Guardians. The Supreme Leader appoints other members for a three-year term.
BBC website: Iran's Political System
Political parties were legalised in 1998 after a 13-year ban and are still at an early stage of development. Parties must accept the principle of Velayat-e Faqih meaning rule by the Islamic Jurist or 'Faqih' – the Supreme Leader.
Factions, particularly in the Majles, are most often defined broadly as 'reformist' or 'conservative'. The dominant faction in the Majlis is currently Abadgaran, the Development Coalition of Islamic Iran, whose platform is conservative.
Iran is located in the Middle East and is bounded to the north by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea, to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and to the west by Iraq and Turkey. It is nearly seven times the size of the UK and twice the size of Turkey. The centre and east of the country is largely barren desert, punctuated by oases. There are mountainous regions in the west along the Turkish and Iraqi borders and in the north, where the Alborz mountains rise steeply from a fertile belt around the Caspian Sea.
Recent Political Developments
Presidential elections took place on 24 June 2005. Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad, former mayor of Tehran, beat rival, former President (1989 – 1997) Rafsanjani. President Ahmadinezhad secured just over one third of the votes.
Although there was a relatively high turnout of approximately 59%, the Guardian Council, an unelected body of clerics and jurists that vet candidates, prevented the vast majority of candidates, including all female ones, from standing.
The Majles (parliament), elected in 20 February 2004, has a conservative majority. The Guardians Council disqualified several thousand candidates from standing in the elections, including over a quarter of the sitting deputies. Most of those disqualified were reformists. In protest over 600 candidates refused to take part in the elections. The net result was that in around half the seats there was effectively no alternative to conservative candidates. The conservatives succeeded in turning around the reformist majority in the parliament and now occupy well over half of the 290 seats.
BBC News Country Timeline: Iran
Basic Economic Facts
GDP (2003): $127.9 billion
GDP per capita: between US$ 1600 and US$ 1900 according to most non-purchasing power parity estimates
GDP Growth (2003): 6% (est)
Inflation: 30% (est)
Unemployment: 25-30% (est)
Major Industries: Oil provides about 80% of export earnings and 50% of government revenue. Other main trading areas are gas, petrochemicals, mining and agriculture
Major trading partners (OECD): Germany, Japan, France, Italy, UAE, China, UK
Iran's relations with most countries improved following President Khatami's election 1997.
UK-Iran relations were restored after Iran gave assurances in 1998 that it had no intention to threaten the life of Salman Rushdie. The UK and Iran exchanged Ambassadors in 1999. UK policy towards Iran, like that of the EU, is one of 'constructive but critical engagement'. We aim to support the reform process while maintaining a robust dialogue on issues of concern. These issues include human rights, Iran's nuclear programme, Iran's alleged support for terrorism and for groups seeking to undermine the Middle East Peace Process. The UK and Iran have been working together in the fight against the drugs trade in the region and assistance for the large number of refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan.
EU Foreign Ministers agreed to the negotiation of a Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) between Iran and the EU in June 2002. Negotiations were suspended in June 2003 due to EU concern over Iran's nuclear programme. In light of the IAEA's esolution on 24 September 2005, finding Iran noncompliant with its safe guards agreements, there are no plans at the moment for further negotiating in the TCA or parallel negotiations on a political agreement. It confirmed the EU's readiness to explore ways to further develop political andeconomic co-operation with Iran, following action by Iran to alsoaddress the other concerns of the EU regarding the fight against terrorism, human rights and Iran's approach to the Middle East Peace Process.
Iran-US relations have not been restored since they were broken off in 1980. The US extended the Iran-Libya sanctions Act for a further 5 years in July 2001 and in January 2002 President Bush referred to Iran as part of an 'Axis of Evil'. Unless the Iran and US change their policies neither country believes that normal relations are possible. But neither seems ready to do so at the current time.
UK Position on Military Action
Iran's relations with Iraq never fully recovered from the Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s. However, during the Iraq conflict, Iran declared itself neutral. While it criticised military action, it made a commitment to remain outside the conflict. Iran says that it wants to work towards a stable and cohesive Iraq. They have direct bilateral engagement with the Iraqi Interim Government. Iran is working with the Iraqi authorities in a number of areas such as border control and power supply. Iran hosted a conference on 30 November 2004, to discuss security in Iraq, ways to help the Iraqis stage their general election on schedule and stop the infiltration of insurgents. This was hosted by the Iranian Interior Minister. Interior Ministers and security officials from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwit, Syria, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt also participated.
Elsewhere in the region, Iran appears keen to help promote stability in Afghanistan, having suffered from the Afghan civil war and then the Taliban. Iran has pledged $560 million over 5 years to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The two countries have developed good anti-narcotics co-operation.
Since 1979, Iranian leaders have argued that Israel's existence was illegitimate, because it came about as a result of the destruction of Palestine. Iran continues to have a vehement anti-Israel stance. Iran has been very critical of the Middle East Peace Process and we are seriously concerned at the material and political support which groups undermining peace in the Middle East through violence draw from inside Iran. However in late 2002, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman did state that Iran would not reject a two state solution, provided it was acceptable to both the Israelis and Palestinians.
UK Diplomatic Representation in Iran
Iranian Diplomatic Representation in the UK
The UK, France and Germany (the "E3") have been engaged in dialogue with Iran for more than a year to encourage Iran to co-operate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and take steps that would assure the international community that its nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes.
The E3 has argued that these steps must include, crucially, suspension of all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities (Low enriched uranium can be used as a fuel for nuclear power reactors; highly enriched uranium can be used as the fissile material for nuclear weapons). The IAEA adopted (by consensus) successive resolutions requiring Iran to suspend. We have made clear that we do not dispute Iran's right to a civil nuclear power generation programme, and that provided Iran puts in place and sustains an acceptable suspension, we could negotiate long-term arrangements.
On 15 November 2004, Iran approved an agreement with the E3 about its nuclear programme, in which it agreed to suspend fully all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and to sustain the suspension while we negotiate long-term arrangements. The IAEA Director-General Mohammed El-Baradei was able to confirm on 29 November that a suspension was in place. Under our agreement with Iran the long-term arrangements will provide objective guarantees that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes, and lay the groundwork for wider nuclear, economic and technological co-operation.
Working groups have been set up to take forward the negotiations; the first meetings took place on 13 December.
Paris Agreement - Jack Straw welcomes signature of Nuclear Agreement
On 5 August 2005, the UK, France and Germany (the E3) presented proposals to the Iranian government, as promised in a meeting in Geneva on 25 May 2005 between E3 Foreign Ministers and Hassan Rouhani, the senior Iranian negotiator. The following is a summary of those proposals and is self explanatory.
E3/EU Proposals for a Long-term Agreement: Summary (PDF, 29KB)
There has been a disappointing lack of progress on human rights issues in Iran. One paritcular and growing concern that has put particular international spotlight on Iran is the punishment of children. We have received a growing number of reports of juvenile offenders being sentenced to death or lashing and of sentences being carried out, including public hanging of children.occasionally executed.
We have noted a few modest improvements in specific areas during the last year. Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and returned to Iran where she has spoken out against injustices, particularly on women’s and children’s issues. While hard-liners have sought to intimidate her, some in the government actively welcome the award and have supported her.
There have also been some positive legislative developments eg a new law to give women greater (though still not equal) divorce rights; and one to bring the ‘blood money’ paid to Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians (though not Bahá’ís) into line with amounts paid to Muslims.
Restrictions on freedom of expression appear to have tightened. The authorities have blocked many websites and weblogs that provide news or comment critical of the regime, and have shut a number of reformaist newspapaers.
The widespread practices of arbitrary detention following arrest, of detention in unofficial prisons and of torture while in detention continue as a feature of the Iranian penal system. The head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Shahroudi, said on 28 April 2004: 'Any torture to extract a confession is banned and the confessions extracted through torture are not legitimate and legal', do not appear to have been implemented. A recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Expression and Opinion highlighted these failings. We welcome the announcement made in late December 2002 by the head of the Supreme Administrative Court that the practice of stoning had been suspended. We hope the suspension remains permanent. A similar ‘moratorium’ on amputations was declared in March 2003. We are concerned by reports that people continue to receive sentences; it is unclear whether any amputations have been carried out. We also remain extremely concerned about Iran's use of the death penalty. We continue to make our strong concern clear to the Iranian authorities.
While three religious minorities are recognised by the constitution – Christians, Jewish and Zoroastrain – they remain vulnerable in a society governed by the laws and values of Islam. The Bahai religion is not officially recognised, so members of the Bahai community enjoy no constitutional freedoms. They face frequent persecution; two of their sacred sites were demolished in 2004 and they still face considerable problems gaining access to education.
Under Iranian law, conversion from Islam to any other religion is a crime and may in theory be punished by death.
The UK Government continues to raise human rights concerns with the Iranian authorities regularly and at all levels. We do so both bilaterally and with our EU partners. Since 2002, the EU has maintained a human rights dialogue with Iran. This enables us to discuss specific violations and the need for reforms. The UK, along with all EU member states, co-sponsored a Canadian resolution on human rights in Iran at the United Nations General Assembly, which was adopted by the Third Committee on 17 November 2004. The resolution makes clear international concern at continuing human rights violations in Iran.
UK HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE TO IRAN
The Iranian Government estimates the presence of just over one million refugees in Iran. Most are Afghan, but a significant minority are from Iraq. A total of 107,000 refugees have returned to Iraq since the end of Saddam Hussein's rule.The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) began a programme to encourage repatriation of Afghans to their country in 2002. In the first 9 months of 2004, approximately 383,000 Afghans returned to their country.
On 26 December 2003 an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale struck Bam, a medieval town in the South East of Iran. Current reports indicate that over 30,000 people have died. UK assistance, including the sending of a search and rescue team, cold weather tents and two planes, amounts to over a $1 million. But earthquakes are a frequent occurrence in Iran: since 1991 nearly 1000 other tremors have been recorded claiming some 17,600 lives according to official figures.
TRADE AND INVESTMENT WITH THE UK
UK Trade & Investment Country Profile: Iran
CULTURAL RELATIONS WITH THE UK
The UK Government has begun sporting and cultural exchanges with Iran for the first time since the Revolution. British Council reopened an office in Tehran in 2001.
A seminar took place in March 2002 to bring together academic and faith leaders to hold an inter-faith dialogue as part of the Dialogue Among Civilisations and a follow-up seminar is planned. The Dialogue was an initiative proposed by President Khatami, and adopted by the UN for the year 2001, aimed at strengthening understanding between different peoples and cultures. This is a theme which the UK endorses and indeed the UK as a member of the EU supported Iran's successful bid at the UN to have the Dialogue extended. Examples of cultural and sporting co-operation include:
In December 2002, the ex-England football internationals, Garry Mabbut and Steve Hodge, visited Iran to give a one-week coaching course to young footballers and youth-team international coaches.
An exhibition of contemporary British sculpture was shown at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art throughout March and April 2004. The British Council was responsible for organising this first exhibition of British art ever to be seen in the Islamic Republic, covering developments in British sculpture during the 20th century.
Eshaq Jahangiri, Minister of Industries and Mines, visited the UK in November 2004. He had meetings with, among others, Patricia Hewitt, UK Secretary of State for Trade & Industry and Baroness Symons, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Discussions focussed on strengthening commercial links between Iran and the UK.
Prince Charles visited Iran in February 2004 in his capacity as the Patron of the British Red Cross. The visit was a demonstration of the concern of the people of Britain for the people of Iran following the tragic earthquake in Bam. Prince Charles was keen to see what was being done to help the victims of the earthquake and to rebuild the city of Bam and see how the British Red Cross could best help.
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi visited the UK in February 2003. He had meetings with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on a range of issues His most recent visit to the UK was on 22 April, as part of a European capitals tour, for talks on the nuclear issue.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw visited Tehran on 25 September 2001; the first visit by a British Foreign Minister since before the Iranian Revolution in 1979. One of the main aims of his visit was to discuss the international fight against terrorism following the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the US on 11 September. He has since paid four more visits to Iran, most recently in October 2003 along with the French and German Foreign Ministers to discuss nuclear concerns.
Back in February 2001, Dr Mowlam had become the first British Cabinet Minister to visit Iran since the revolution. The visit centred on efforts to curb drug trafficking from Afghanistan through Iran and into Europe, in part through signing a Memorandum of Understanding on drugs issues. The Foreign Affairs Committee also visited Iran in October 2003 to discuss a range of human rights and security issues.