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Iran remains among the most poorly understood countries in the world and, for most Americans, terra incognita. A small community of American analysts in the government, academia, and the country's think tanks is, of course, working on Iran, but the overwhelming majority of them have never been to Iran or have visited only briefly. The consequences of this unfamiliarity have been distinctly negative for American policy, pushing most analyses toward a highly reductionist view. This monograph, the result of a workshop and the authors' own experience and analysis, is a concise, accessible handbook on the Islamic Republic for U.S. policymakers. As an aid to understanding current-day Iran, it synthesizes the existing analyses on the Islamic Republic and, most important, draws from non-American experts who can offer a different interpretive lens for viewing the seemingly opaque Iranian system. It offers a set of short analytic observations about the processes, institutions, networks, and actors that define Iran's politics, strategy, economic policy, and diplomacy. From these, it provides a guide for negotiating with Iran, about which the National Security Council's 2006 National Security Strategy warned, “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran.”

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Smith Richardson Foundation and was conducted under the auspices of the International Security and Defense Policy Center within the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD). NSRD conducts research and analysis for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Commands, the defense agencies, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Intelligence Community, allied foreign governments, and foundations.

This report is part of the RAND monograph series. RAND monographs present major research findings that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND monographs undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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