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Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran: Requirements for a Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement

April 9, 2014 Comments off

Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran: Requirements for a Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement
Source: Brookings Institution

After a dozen-year standoff between Iran and the international community over the Iranian nuclear program, negotiations are underway between representatives of Iran, on the one hand, and the P5+1 countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China) and the European Union, on the other, on a comprehensive agreement aimed at ensuring that an Iranian nuclear program declared to be devoted to peaceful purposes will not be turned into a program for producing nuclear weapons.

However, key differences exist on the requirements of an acceptable deal, not just among negotiators at the table but also among key players outside the negotiations. Israeli officials and a number of members of Congress are demanding the elimination of key elements of Iran’s nuclear program, and the Obama administration and its supporters counter that several of those demands are neither achievable nor necessary for a sound agreement.

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CRS — Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses (updated)

March 19, 2014 Comments off

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

A priority of Obama Administration policy has been to reduce the perceived threat posed by Iran to a broad range of U.S. interests. Well before Iran’s nuclear issue rose to the forefront of U.S. concerns about Iran in 2003, the United States had seen Iran’s support for regional militant groups, such as Lebanese Hezbollah, as efforts to undermine U.S. interests and allies. To implement U.S. policy, the Obama Administration has orchestrated broad international economic pressure on Iran to try to compel it to verifiably demonstrate to the international community that its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes. That pressure harmed Iran’s economy, created Iranian domestic sentiment for a negotiated nuclear settlement that would produce an easing of international sanctions, and paved the way for the June 2013 election of the relatively moderate Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran. Three rounds of subsequent multilateral talks with Iran achieved a November 24, 2013, interim agreement (“Joint Plan of Action”) that halts the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for modest and temporary sanctions relief. Subsequent negotiations led to a decision to implement the JPA beginning January 20, 2014, and that mutual implementation has proceeded as planned. A framework for talks on the permanent resolution were agreed between Iran and the six negotiating powers on February 20, 2014.

CRS — Iran: U.S. Economic Sanctions and the Authority to Lift Restrictions

February 25, 2014 Comments off

Iran: U.S. Economic Sanctions and the Authority to Lift Restrictions (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The United States has led the international community in imposing economic sanctions on Iran, in an effort to change the government of that country’s support of acts of international terrorism, poor human rights record, weapons and missile development and acquisition, role in regional instability, and development of a nuclear program.

This report identifies the legislative bases for sanctions imposed on Iran, and the nature of the authority to waive or lift those restrictions. It comprises two tables that present legislation and executive orders that are specific to Iran and its objectionable activities in the areas of terrorism, human rights, and weapons proliferation. It will be updated if and when new legislation is enacted, or, in the case of executive orders, if and when the President takes additional steps to change U.S. policy toward Iran.

Other CRS reports address the U.S.-Iran relationship, including a comprehensive discussion of the practical application of economic sanctions: CRS Report RS20871, Iran Sanctions, by Kenneth Katzman. See also CRS Report R43333, Interim Agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program, by Kenneth Katzman and Paul K. Kerr; CRS Report RL32048, Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, by Kenneth Katzman; and CRS Report R40094, Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Compliance with International Obligations, by Paul K. Kerr.

CRS — Iran Sanctions (updated)

January 31, 2014 Comments off

Iran Sanctions (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Strict sanctions on Iran—sanctions that primarily target Iran’s key energy sector and its access to the international financial system—harmed Iran’s economy to the point where Iran’s leaders, on November 24, 2013, accepted an interim agreement the thrust of which is to halt further expansion of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for apparently modest sanctions relief. The June 14, 2013, election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president was an indication of the growing public pressure on the regime to achieve an easing of sanctions.

New From the GAO

January 9, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports and Testimony
Source: Government Accountability Office

Reports

1. Defense Infrastructure: Army Brigade Combat Team Inactivations Informed by Analyses, but Actions Needed to Improve Stationing Process. GAO-14-76, December 11.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-76
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/659631.pdf

2. Iranian Commercial Activities: Foreign Firms Reported to Have Engaged in Certain Activities Involving Iran’s Energy or Communications Sectors.
GAO-14-218R, January 7.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-218R

Testimony

1. Compacts of Free Association: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight and Accountability of U.S. Assistance to Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, by David Gootnick, director, international affairs and trade, before the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs, House Committee on Natural Resources. GAO-14-243T, January 7.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-243T
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/660021.pdf

CRS — Interim Agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program

January 2, 2014 Comments off

Interim Agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

In the early hours of November 24, 2013, in Geneva, Switzerland, Iran and the six powers that have negotiated with Iran about its nuclear program since 2006 (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany—collectively known as the “P5+1”) finalized an interim agreement requiring Iran to freeze many aspects of its nuclear program in exchange for what the Obama Administration calls “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible” relief from international sanctions. The period of the interim deal is to be six months, during which time Iran and the P5+1 will attempt to reach a comprehensive deal on the long-term status of Iran’s nuclear program.

Key Military Decisions in Iraq and Afghanistan Taken with Insufficient Political Direction

November 25, 2013 Comments off

Key Military Decisions in Iraq and Afghanistan Taken with Insufficient Political Direction
Source: Chatham House

The British government decision-making process failed under the pressure of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, operating in a way which was incoherent, inconsistent and opaque, says a new report, Depending on the Right People, British Political Military Relations 2001-10, by James de Waal.

The report challenges the widespread view that Britain’s politicians, notably Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, should bear the sole blame for the country’s military difficulties. It draws on recent evidence, including from the Chilcot Inquiry, to show that Britain instead suffered a wider failure of the government system, with politicians, senior military officers and civil servants all playing their part. It argues that government policy-making must become more systematic in order to avoid repeating these mistakes in future wars.

CRS — Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses

November 15, 2013 Comments off

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

A priority of Obama Administration policy has been to reduce the perceived threat posed by Iran to a broad range of U.S. interests. Well before Iran’s nuclear issue rose to the forefront of U.S. concerns about Iran in 2003, the United States had seen Iran’s support for regional militant groups, such as Lebanese Hezbollah, as efforts to undermine U.S. interests and allies. To implement U.S. policy, the Obama Administration has orchestrated broad international economic pressure on Iran to try to compel it to verifiably demonstrate to the international community that its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes. Five rounds of multilateral talks with Iran in 2012 and 2013 yielded no breakthroughs but did explore a potential compromise under which Iran might cease producing medium-enriched uranium (20% Uranium-235—a level not technically far from weapons grade) in exchange for modest sanctions relief. International sanctions have harmed Iran’s economy, and the June 14, 2013, first round election victory of a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, appeared to reflect popular Iranian sentiment for a negotiated nuclear settlement that produces an easing of international sanctions.

Rouhani’s election has improved the prospect for a nuclear issue settlement as well as an end to the 34 years of U.S.-Iran estrangement. On September 27, 2013, President Obama and Rouhani spoke by phone—the first leadership level contacts since the 1979 Islamic revolution—as Rouhani departed a week-long visit to the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York. In their speeches to the Assembly, both President Obama and Rouhani indicated that the nuclear issue could be settled—perhaps within six months—and that the long era of U.S.-Iran hostility could be ended. The week also included the first foreign ministerial meeting between the two countries, and a decision to resume formal political talks on the nuclear issue on October 15-16, 2013. Those talks were productive, by all accounts, and resulted in a decision to meet again November 7-8, 2013, but produced no firm substantive agreements on a short-term or end-stage compromise.

Many Sunnis and Shias Worry About Religious Conflict; Concern Especially High Among Muslims in Lebanon

November 11, 2013 Comments off

Many Sunnis and Shias Worry About Religious Conflict; Concern Especially High Among Muslims in Lebanon
Source: Pew Religion & Public Life Project

This week Sunni and Shia Muslims ushered in the Islamic New Year and the beginning of the holy month of Muharram. For Shias, the month also is a time to mourn the events that sparked the centuries-old schism between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Pew Research Center polls conducted in 2011-2012 find high levels of concern about sectarian tensions in several countries where Sunnis and Shias live side by side. These concerns are particularly pronounced in Lebanon, where fully two-thirds of all Muslims, including about half of Shias and 80% of Sunnis, say sectarian tensions are a very big or moderately big problem. Roughly half of all Muslims in Iraq, more than four-in-ten in Afghanistan and nearly a quarter in Iran say the same.

The polls were conducted from November 2011 to May 2012 among a total of more than 5,000 Muslims in five countries with substantial numbers of both Shias and Sunnis (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon). Although Shias make up only about 10%-13% of the world’s Muslims, three of the five countries surveyed (Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan) have Shia-majority populations. Several of the countries polled also have a recent history of sectarian violence. This includes Lebanon, where a civil war was fought along sectarian lines from 1975 to 1991, and Iraq and Afghanistan, where bombings and other suspected sectarian attacks have occurred in the last few years.

CRS — The Iran Hostages: Efforts to Obtain Compensation

September 10, 2013 Comments off

The Iran Hostages: Efforts to Obtain Compensation (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Even today, after the passage of some three decades, the 1979-1981 Iran Hostage Crisis remains an event familiar to most Americans. Many might be unaware that the 52 American mostly military and diplomatic personnel held hostage in Tehran for 444 days continue to strive for significant compensation for their ordeal. The former hostages and their families did receive a number of benefits under various civil service laws, and each hostage received from the U.S. government a cash payment of $50 for each day held hostage. The hostages have never received any compensation from Iran through court actions, all efforts having failed due to foreign sovereign immunity and an executive agreement known as the Algiers Accords, which bars such lawsuits. Congress took action to abrogate Iran’s sovereign immunity in the case Roeder v. Islamic Republic of Iran, but never successfully abrogated the executive agreement, leaving the plaintiffs with jurisdiction to pursue their case but without a judicial cause of action.

Having lost their bids in the courts to obtain recompense, the former hostages have turned to Congress for relief. This report outlines the history of various efforts, including legislative efforts and court cases, and describes two bills currently before Congress (H.R. 904, S. 559).

Turkish-Iranian Relations in a Changing Middle East

September 4, 2013 Comments off

Turkish-Iranian Relations in a Changing Middle East
Source: RAND Corporation

Turkish-Iranian cooperation has visibly intensified in recent years, thanks in part to Turkish energy needs and Iran’s vast oil and natural gas resources. However, Turkey and Iran tend to be rivals rather than close partners. While they may share certain economic and security interests, especially regarding the Kurdish issue, their interests are at odds in many areas across the Middle East. Turkey’s support for the opposition in Syria, Iran’s only true state ally in the Middle East, is one example. Iraq has also become a field of growing competition between Turkey and Iran. Iran’s nuclear program has been a source of strain and divergence in U.S.-Turkish relations. However, the differences between the United States and Turkey regarding Iran’s nuclear program are largely over tactics, not strategic goals. Turkey’s main fear is that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear arms could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. This, in turn, could increase pressure on the Turkish government to consider developing its own nuclear weapon capability. U.S. and Turkish interests have become more convergent since the onset of the Syrian crisis. However, while U.S. and Turkish interests in the Middle East closely overlap, they are not identical. Thus, the United States should not expect Turkey to follow its policy toward Iran unconditionally. Turkey has enforced United Nations sanctions against Iran but, given Ankara’s close energy ties to Tehran, may be reluctant to undertake the harshest measures against Iran.

Regional Analysis Brief: Caspian Sea Region

August 27, 2013 Comments off

Regional Analysis Brief: Caspian Sea Region
Source: Energy Information Administration

The Caspian Sea region is one of the oldest oil-producing areas in the world and is an increasingly important source of global energy production. The area has significant oil and natural gas reserves from both offshore deposits in the Caspian Sea itself and onshore fields in the Caspian basin. Traditionally an oil-producing area, the Caspian area’s importance as a natural gas producer is growing quickly.

This report analyzes oil and natural gas in the Caspian region, focusing primarily on the littoral (coastal) countries of the Caspian Sea (Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran). A discussion of Uzbekistan is also included. While not a Caspian coastal state, a considerable amount of Uzbekistan’s territory, along with its energy resources, lies in the geological Caspian basins.

Aside from Azerbaijan’s oil production, the Caspian Sea largely was untapped until the collapse of the Soviet Union. With several newly independent countries gaining access to valuable hydrocarbon deposits, the different countries have taken diverging approaches to developing the energy resources of the area. At the same time, the lack of regional cooperation between the countries’ governments and few export options for Caspian hydrocarbon resources have slowed the development of Caspian oil and natural gas resources.

The combination of foreign investment and rising energy prices allowed the coastal countries to shift from diverting oil extraction for local use to supplying both regional and world oil markets. The ability of countries to export greater volumes of Caspian crude oil and natural gas will depend on how quickly domestic energy demand rises in those countries, how quickly they can build additional export infrastructure to global markets, and whether expensive projects to develop Caspian resources can attract sufficient investment.

Country Analysis Brief: Iran

March 29, 2013 Comments off

Country Analysis Brief: Iran
Source: Energy Information Administration

Iran, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), ranks among the world’s top four holders of both proven oil and natural gas reserves. In 2012, Iran saw unprecedented drops in its oil exports as sanctions by the United States (U.S.) and European Union (EU) were tightened, targeting Iranian oil export revenues. Preliminary data show that Iran ranked fifth in terms of crude oil and condensate exports, which was in contrast to its third position only two years ago. Given the sanctions and resulting drop in production, export volumes likely will continue to be hampered.

Iran has the world’s second largest natural gas reserves, but the sector is underdeveloped and used mostly to meet domestic demand. In contrast to the decreasing oil production, natural gas development has been slowly expanding. Nonetheless, natural gas production has been lower than expected as a result of a lack of foreign investment and technology.

New From the GAO

February 25, 2013 Comments off

Number of jailed journalists sets global record

December 30, 2012 Comments off

Number of jailed journalists sets global record

Source: Committee to Protect Journalists

Imprisonment of journalists worldwide reached a record high in 2012, driven in part by the widespread use of charges of terrorism and other anti-state offenses against critical reporters and editors, the Committee to Protect Journalists has found. In its annual census of imprisoned journalists, CPJ identified 232 individuals behind bars on December 1, an increase of 53 over its 2011 tally.

Large-scale imprisonments in Turkey, Iran, and China helped lift the global tally to its highest point since CPJ began conducting worldwide surveys in 1990, surpassing the previous record of 185 in 1996. The three nations, the world’s worst jailers of the press, each made extensive use of vague anti-state laws to silence dissenting political views, including those expressed by ethnic minorities. Worldwide, anti-state charges such as terrorism, treason, and subversion were the most common allegations brought against journalists in 2012. At least 132 journalists were being held around the world on such charges, CPJ’s census found.

Eritrea and Syria also ranked among the world’s worst, each jailing numerous journalists without charge or due process and holding them in secret prisons without access to lawyers or family members. Worldwide, 63 journalists are being held without any publicly disclosed charge.

Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and Saudi Arabia rounded out the 10 worst jailers. In two of those nations, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, the authorities used retaliatory charges such as hooliganism and drug possession to jail critical reporters and editors. In 19 cases worldwide, governments used a variety of charges unrelated to journalism to silence critical journalists. In the cases included in this census, CPJ determined that the charges were fabricated.

CRS — Iran Sanctions (Updated)

October 26, 2012 Comments off

Iran Sanctions (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The principal objective of international sanctions—to compel Iran to verifiably confine its nuclear program to purely peaceful uses—has not been achieved to date. However, a broad international coalition has imposed progressively strict economic sanctions on Iran’s oil export lifeline, producing increasingly severe effects on Iran’s economy. Many judge that Iran might soon decide it needs a nuclear compromise to produce an easing of sanctions because:

  • Oil exports provide about 70% of Iran’s government revenues and Iran’s oil exports have declined sharply as a result of the sanctions. A European Union embargo on purchases of Iranian crude oil that took full effect on July 1, 2012. Previously, EU countries were buying about 20% of Iran’s oil exports. This embargo is coupled with decisions by several other Iranian oil customers to substantially reduce purchases of Iranian oil in order to comply with a provision of the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 112-81).
  • Together, these sanctions have reduced Iranian oil exports to about 1 million barrels per day as of October 2012, a dramatic decline from the 2.5 million barrels per day Iran exported during 2011. This loss of sales has caused Iran to reduce oil production, to the point where it is producing less oil than is Iraq.
  • The loss of hard currency revenues from oil—coupled with the cut off of Iran from the international banking system and the reported depletion of Iran’s foreign exchange reserves—caused a collapse in the value of Iran’s currency, the rial, in early October. That collapse prompted street demonstrations and a halt to commerce by merchants who are uncertain how to price their goods. In response, Iran has tried to impose currency controls and arrested some illegal currency traders, although these steps are unlikely to restore public confidence in the regime’s economic management. Other oil producers, particularly Saudi Arabia, are selling additional oil to countries cutting Iranian oil buys, thus far preventing the lost Iranian sales from raising world oil prices.

Department of Defense and other assessments indicate that sanctions have not stopped Iran from building up its conventional military and missile capabilities, in large part with indigenous skills. However, sanctions may be slowing Iran’s nuclear program somewhat by preventing Iran from obtaining some needed technology from foreign sources. Iran is also judged not complying with U.N. requirements that it halt any weapons shipments outside its borders, particularly with regard to purported Iranian weapons shipments to help the embattled Asad government in Syria.

Despite the imposition of what many now consider to be “crippling” sanctions, some in Congress believe that economic pressure on Iran needs to increase further and faster. In the 112 th Congress, a House-Senate compromise version of an extensive Iran sanctions bill, H.R. 1905 (“Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012”), was passed by both chambers on August 1, 2012, and signed on August 10 (P.L. 112-158). The bill makes sanctionable numerous additional forms of foreign energy dealings with Iran, including shipments of crude oil, and enhances human rights-related provisions of previous Iran sanctions laws. Some press reports indicate that the 112 th Congress might try to increase sanctions further in late 2012, possibly as an amendment to a FY2013 national defense authorization act. For a broader analysis of policy on Iran, see CRS Report RL32048, Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, by Kenneth Katzman.

CRS — Iran’s Nuclear Program: Status

October 12, 2012 Comments off

Iran’s Nuclear Program: Status

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Iran’s nuclear program began during the 1950s. The United States has expressed concern since the mid-1970s that Tehran might develop nuclear weapons. Iran’s construction of gas centrifuge-based uranium enrichment facilities is currently the main source of proliferation concern. Gas centrifuges enrich uranium by spinning uranium hexafluoride gas at high speeds to increase the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope. Such centrifuges can produce both low-enriched uranium (LEU), which can be used in nuclear power reactors, and weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU), which is one of the two types of fissile material used in nuclear weapons.

Obtaining fissile material is widely regarded as the most difficult task in building nuclear weapons. As of May 2012, Iran had produced an amount of LEU containing up to five percent uranium-235 which, if further enriched, could theoretically produce enough HEU for several nuclear weapons. Iran has also produced LEU containing up to 20 percent uranium-235, but, as of May 2012, this amount was not sufficient to yield a sufficient amount of weapons-grade HEU for a weapon.

Although Iran claims that its nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes, the program has generated considerable concern that Tehran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Indeed, the UN Security Council has responded to Iran’s refusal to suspend work on its uranium enrichment program by adopting several resolutions that imposed sanctions on Tehran. Despite evidence that sanctions and other forms of pressure have slowed the program, Iran continues to enrich uranium, install additional centrifuges, and conduct research on new types of centrifuges.

Tehran has also continued work on a heavy-water reactor, which is a proliferation concern because its spent fuel will contain plutonium—the other type of fissile material used in nuclear weapons. However, plutonium must be separated from spent fuel—a procedure called “reprocessing.” Iran has said that it will not engage in reprocessing.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitors Iran’s nuclear facilities and has been able to verify that Tehran’s declared nuclear facilities and materials have not been diverted for military purposes. But the agency still has concerns about the program, particularly evidence that Iran may have conducted procurement activities and research directly applicable to nuclear weapons development. The United States has assessed that Tehran has the technical capability eventually to produce nuclear weapons, but has not yet mastered all of the necessary technologies for building such weapons. Whether Iran has a viable design for a nuclear weapon is unclear.

Whether Iran has a nuclear weapons program is also unclear. A National Intelligence Estimate made public in December 2007 assessed that Tehran “halted its nuclear weapons program” in 2003. The estimate, however, also assessed that Tehran is “keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons” and that any decision to end a nuclear weapons program is “inherently reversible.” U.S. intelligence officials have reaffirmed this judgment on several occasions. For example, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated in January 2012 that Iran “is keeping open the option to develop” nuclear weapons. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated in January 2012 that Iran would probably need “about a year” to produce a nuclear weapon and “possibly another one to two years” to incorporate it into a delivery vehicle. However, Director Clapper indicated in February 2012 that it would likely take Iran longer than a year to produce a nuclear weapon after making a decision to do so. These estimates apparently assume that Iran would use its declared nuclear facilities to produce fissile material for a weapon. However, Tehran would probably use covert facilities for this purpose; Iranian efforts to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons by using its known nuclear facilities would almost certainly be detected by the IAEA.

CRS — Israel: Possible Military Strike Against Iran’s Nuclear Facilities

October 12, 2012 Comments off

Israel: Possible Military Strike Against Iran’s Nuclear Facilities (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. Department of State Foreign Press Center)

Several published reports indicate that top Israeli decisionmakers are seriously considering whether to order a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, and if so, when. Twice in Israel’s history, it has conducted air strikes aimed at halting or delaying what Israeli policymakers believed to be efforts to acquire nuclear weapons by a Middle Eastern state—destroying Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 and a facility the Israelis identified as a reactor under construction in Syria in 2007. Today, Israeli officials generally view the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran as an unacceptable threat to Israeli security—with some describing it as an existential threat. This report analyzes key factors that may influence Israeli political decisions relating to a possible strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. These include, but are not limited to, the views of and relationships among Israeli leaders; the views of the Israeli public; U.S., regional, and international stances and responses as perceived and anticipated by Israel; Israeli estimates of the potential effectiveness and risks of a possible strike; and responses Israeli leaders anticipate from Iran and Iranian-allied actors—including Hezbollah and Hamas—regionally and internationally.

For Congress, the potential impact—short- and long-term—of an Israeli decision regarding Iran and its implementation is a critical issue of concern. By all accounts, such an attack could have considerable regional and global security, political, and economic repercussions, not least for the United States, Israel, and their bilateral relationship. It is unclear what the ultimate effect of a strike would be on the likelihood of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. The current Israeli government, President Barack Obama, and many Members of Congress have similar concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. They appear to have a range of views on how best to address those shared concerns. Iran maintains that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful, civilian energy and research purposes, and U.S. intelligence assessments say that Iran has not made a decision to build nuclear weapons. However, Iran continues to enrich uranium in militarily hardened sites and questions remain about its nuclear weapons capabilities and intentions.

Short- and long-term questions for Members of Congress to consider regarding a possible Israeli decision to strike Iranian nuclear facilities militarily might include, but are not limited to, the following: • How might an Israeli strike affect options and debate regarding short-term and long-term U.S. relations and security cooperation with, and foreign assistance to, Israel and other regional countries?

  • Would an Israeli strike be considered self-defense? Why or why not? What would be the legal and policy implications either way?
  • How might a strike affect the implementation of existing sanctions legislation on Iran or options and debate over new legislation on the subject?
  • How might Congress consult with the Obama Administration on and provide oversight with respect to various political and military options?

This report has many aspects that are the subject of vigorous debate and remain fully or partially outside public knowledge. CRS does not claim to independently confirm any sources cited within this report that attribute specific positions or views to various Israeli, U.S., or other officials. This is an update of a report dated March 28, 2012. However, the only updated material is the initial section entitled “Developments from Late March to September 2012.”

The Rise of Diabetes Prevalence in the Arab Region

May 31, 2012 Comments off
Source:  Open Journal of Epidemiology
Introduction:
Arab populations have many similarities and dissimilarities. They share culture, language and religion but they are also subject to economic, political and social differences. The purpose of this study is to understand the causes of the rising trend of diabetes prevalence in order to suggest efficient actions susceptible to reduce the burden of diabetes in the Arab world.
Method:
We use principal component analysis to illustrate similarities and differences between Arab countries according to four variables: 1) the prevalence of diabetes, 2) impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), 3) diabetes related deaths and 4) diabetes related expenditure per person. A linear regression is also used to study the correlation between human development index and diabetes prevalence.
Results:
Arab countries are mainly classified into three groups according to the diabetes comparative prevalence (high, medium and low) but other differences are seen in terms of diabetes-related mortality and diabetes related expenditure per person. We also investigate the correlation between the human development index (HDI) and diabetes comparative prevalence (R = 0.81).
Conclusion:
The alarming rising trend of diabetes prevalence in the Arab region constitutes a real challenge for heath decision makers. In order to alleviate the burden of diabetes, preventive strategies are needed, based essentially on sensitization for a more healthy diet with regular exercise but health authorities are also asked to provide populations with heath- care and early diagnosis to avoid the high burden caused by complications of diabetes.

CRS — Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses

April 10, 2012 Comments off

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Obama Administration identifies Iran as a major threat to U.S. national security interests. This perception is generated by suspicions of Iran’s intentions for its nuclear program— heightened by a November 8, 2011, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report—as well as by Iran’s support for militant groups in the Middle East and in Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. officials also accuse Iran of helping Syria’s leadership try to defeat a growing popular opposition movement, and of taking advantage of Shiite majority unrest against the Sunni-led, pro-U.S. government of Bahrain. Tensions have been particularly elevated since Iran’s late December 2011 threat to try to choke off much of the world’s oil supplies by attempting to close the Strait of Hormuz—a reaction to the imposition of significant sanctions against Iran’s vital exports of oil.

The sense of imminent crisis with Iran—much of which has been brought on by Israeli threats to buck U.S. advice by acting militarily against Iran’s nuclear program—follows three years in which the Obama Administration has assembled a broad international coalition to pressure Iran through economic sanctions—while also offering sustained engagement with Iran.

None of the pressure has, to date, altered Iran’s pursuit of its nuclear program: Iran attended December 2010 and January 2011 talks with the six powers negotiating with Iran, but no progress was reported at any of these meetings. However, since the beginning of 2012, as significant multilateral sanctions have been added on Iran’s oil exports—including an oil purchase embargo by the European Union to go into full effect by July 1, 2012—there are growing indications that the regime feels economic pressure. Iran’s leaders have responded not only with threats to commerce in the Strait of Hormuz, but also stated a willingness to enter into new nuclear talks without preconditions. At the same time, it has begun uranium enrichment at a deep underground facility near Qom. The Administration uses indicators such as Iran’s economic deterioration and its willingness to engage in new talks as evidence that policy is starting to work and should be given more time before any consideration of U.S. or other country military options.

The Administration also perceives that the legitimacy and popularity of Iran’s regime is in decline, although not to the point where the perceived threat from Iran is likely to end in the near future. The regime has sought to parry the perception that it is increasingly isolated—a perception that might color the outcome of March 2, 2012, parliamentary elections. In advance of the vote, the regime arrested activists whom they suspect might try to spark unrest during the election campaign—a fear heightened by the boycott of the poll by reformist groups. Over the past two years, the United States has increased public criticism of Iran’s human rights record, an effort broadly supported in the international community. Some in the 112th Congress, aside from supporting additional economic sanctions against Iran, believe the United States should provide additional vocal and material support to the democracy movement in Iran, despite the relative quiescence of the opposition “Green Movement” since early 2010. The Administration argues that it has supported the opposition through civil society and other programs, and by using recent authorities to sanction Iranian officials who suppress human rights in Iran and help Syria repress human rights. For further information, including pending Iran sanctions legislation, see CRS Report RS20871, Iran Sanctions; and CRS Report R40094, Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Compliance with International Obligations, by Paul K. Kerr.

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