Known as Persia until 1935, Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 after the ruling shah was forced into exile. Conservative clerical forces subsequently crushed westernizing liberal elements. Militant Iranian students seized the US Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979 and held it until 20 January 1981. During 1980-88, Iran fought a bloody, indecisive war with Iraq over disputed territory. The key current issue is how rapidly the country should open up to the modernizing influences of the outside world.
Iran has a variable climate. In the northwest, winters are cold with heavy snowfall and subfreezing temperatures during December and January. Spring and fall are relatively mild, while summers are dry and hot. In the south, winters are mild and the summers are very hot, having average daily temperatures in July exceeding 38° C. On the Khuzestan plain, summer heat is accompanied by high humidity. In general, Iran has an arid climate in which most of the relatively scant annual precipitation falls from October through April. In most of the country, yearly precipitation averages 25 centimeters or less. The major exceptions are the higher mountain valleys of the Zagros and the Caspian coastal plain, where precipitation averages at least 50 centimeters annually. In the western part of the Caspian, rainfall exceeds 100 centimeters annually and is distributed relatively evenly throughout the year. This contrasts with some basins of the Central Plateau that receive ten centimeters or less of precipitation annually. Iran's economy is a mixture of central planning, state ownership of oil and other large enterprises, village agriculture, and small-scale private trading and service ventures.
In the mid-1990s the service sector contributed the largest percentage of the GDP, followed by industry (mining and manufacturing) and agriculture. About 60 percent of the government's budget came from oil and natural gas revenues, and 40 percent came from taxes and fees. Government spending contributed to average annual inflation rates exceeding 20 percent. In 1999 the GDP was estimated at $111 billion, or $1,760 per capita. Because of these figures and the country's diversified but small industrial base, the United Nations classifies Iran's economy as semi-developed.
Iran has had no direct trade with the United States since 1995, when the U.S. government banned all commercial and financial transactions between U.S. companies and Iranian public and private entities. The United States took this action because it believed Iran was planning to develop weapons of mass destruction and was supporting international terrorism. Iran is a founding member of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Economic Cooperation Organization (an organization promoting economic and cultural cooperation among Islamic states).
Important: Travel to Iran may require a travel visa.
Whether a visa is required for travel depends on citizenship and purpose of journey.
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Full country name: Islamic Republic of Iran
Capital city: Tehran
Area: 1,648,195 sq km
Ethnic groups: Persian 61%, Azeri 16%, Kurd 10%, Lur 6%, Baloch 2%, Arab 2%, Turkmen and Turkic tribes 2%, other 1%
Government: theocratic republic
Chief of State: Supreme Leader Ali Hoseini-KHAMENEI
Head of Government: President Mahmud AHMADI-NEJAD
GDP: 990.8 billion
GDP per captia: 13,200
Annual growth rate: 2%
Agriculture: wheat, rice, other grains, sugar beets, sugarcane, fruits, nuts, cotton
Major industries: petroleum, petrochemicals, fertilizers, caustic soda, textiles, cement and other construction materials, food processing
Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, coal, chromium, copper, iron ore, lead, manganese, zinc, sulfur
Location: Middle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea, between Iraq and Pakistan
Trade Partners - exports: China 21.4%, Japan 9.1%, Turkey 8.8%, India 8.1%, South Korea 8%, Italy 5.3%
Trade Partners - imports: UAE 30.9%, China 17.4%, South Korea 7.1%, Germany 4.8%, Turkey 4.2%