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Monday, December 30, 2013

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses - RL32048


Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

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. Three rounds of multilateral talks with Iran in subsequent to the accession of the relatively moderate Hassan Rouhani as president of 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. The agreement is to remain in force for six months, during which time a permanent resolution of the Iran nuclear issue is to be negotiated. International sanctions have harmed Iran’s economy, and Rouhani’s election appeared to reflect popular Iranian sentiment for a negotiated nuclear settlement that produces an easing of international sanctions.

Rouhani’s election has also improved prospects 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 not only could the nuclear issue be settled but that the long era of U.S.-Iran hostility could be ended. The interim nuclear agreement has apparently also eased tensions between Iran and its neighbors in the Persian Gulf region. However, like the United States, the Gulf states, Israel, and other regional states appear to concerned that Iran’s regional ambitions are unchanged. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has openly expressed opposition to the Joint Plan of Action as failing to dismantle Iran’s uranium enrichment and other infrastructure, and as paving the way for a broad unraveling of international sanctions on Iran. Some experts assert that the nuclear deal could give Iran additional political and economic resources to support pro-Iranian movements and regimes, such as the embattled government of Bashar Al Assad of Syria.

President Obama has maintained—both before and after the interim agreement was signed—that the option of U.S. military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities remains open. However, further U.S.—or Israeli—discussion of military options against Iran is unlikely unless Iran fails to implement the interim deal or negotiate the longer term settlement of the nuclear issue. In line with a provision of the interim agreement that no new sanctions be imposed on Iran during the six month agreement period, the Administration is requesting that Congress postpone further consideration of an expanded Iran sanctions bill, H.R. 850, which passed the House on July 31, 2013, or similar legislation.

Rouhani’s presidency has the potential to increase the domestic popularity of Iran’s regime if he implements campaign pledges to ease repression and social restrictions. His unexpected election win—a result of a large turnout of reform-minded voters such as those who protested the 2009 election results—appeared to counter the views of many experts who assessed the domestic reform movement as cowed by regime suppression and inactive. For further information, see CRS Report RS20871,
Iran Sanctions, by Kenneth Katzman; and CRS Report R43333, Interim Agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program, by Kenneth Katzman and Paul K. Kerr.

Date of Report: December 12, 2013
Number of Pages: 77
Order Number: RL32048
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Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy - RL30588


Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The United States and its partner countries are reducing military involvement in Afghanistan as Afghan security forces assume lead security responsibility throughout the country. The current international security mission will terminate at the end of 2014 and likely transition to a far smaller mission consisting mostly of training and mentoring the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF). The number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which peaked at about 100,000 in June 2011, was reduced to a “pre-surge” level of about 66,000 in September 2012, and is currently about 45,000. That number will fall to 34,000 by February 2014. The size of the “residual force” that will likely remain in Afghanistan after 2014 might be announced in early 2014, with options centering on about 6,000-10,000 U.S. trainers and counterterrorism forces, assisted by about 5,000 partner forces performing similar missions. The U.S. troops that remain after 2014 would do so under a U.S.-Afghanistan security agreement that the United States says has been finalized but which President Hamid Karzai, despite significant public and elite backing for the agreement, refuses to sign until additional conditions he has set down are met. Fearing instability after 2014, some ethnic and political faction leaders are reviving their militia forces should the international drawdown lead to a major Taliban push to retake power.

The Administration remains concerned that Afghan stability after 2014 is at risk from weak and corrupt Afghan governance and insurgent safe havens in Pakistan. Among efforts to promote effective and transparent Afghan governance, U.S. officials are attempting to ensure that the next presidential election, scheduled for April 5, 2014, will be devoid of the fraud that plagued Afghanistan’s elections in 2009 and 2010. Other U.S. and partner country anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan have yielded few concrete results. An unexpected potential benefit to stability could come from a negotiated settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Negotiations have been sporadic, but U.S.-Taliban discussions that were expected to begin after the Taliban opened a political office in Qatar in June 2013 did not materialize. Afghanistan’s minorities and women’s groups fear that a settlement might produce compromises with the Taliban that erode human rights and ethnic power-sharing.

The United States and other donors continue to fund development projects while increasingly delegating project implementation to the Afghan government. U.S. officials assert that Afghanistan might be able to exploit vast mineral and agricultural resources, as well as its potentially significant hydrocarbon resources, to prevent a severe economic downturn as international donors scale back their involvement. U.S. officials also seek greater Afghan integration into regional trade and investment patterns as part of a “New Silk Road.” Persuading Afghanistan’s neighbors, particularly Pakistan, to support Afghanistan’s stability have shown some modest success over the past year.

Even if these economic efforts succeed, Afghanistan will likely remain dependent on foreign aid indefinitely. Through the end of FY2013, the United States has provided nearly $93 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, of which more than $56 billion has been to equip and train Afghan forces. The aid request for FY2014 is over $10 billion, including $7.7 billion to train and equip the ANSF. Administration officials have said that economic aid requests for Afghanistan are likely to continue at current levels through at least FY2017. See CRS Report RS21922,
Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance, by Kenneth Katzman.

Date of Report: December 6, 2013
Number of Pages: 87
Order Number: RL30588
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy - RL30588


Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The United States and its partner countries are reducing military involvement in Afghanistan as Afghan security forces assume lead security responsibility throughout the country. The current international security mission will terminate at the end of 2014 and likely transition to a far smaller mission consisting mostly of training and mentoring the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF). The number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which peaked at about 100,000 in June 2011, was reduced to a “pre-surge” level of about 66,000 in September 2012, and is currently about 45,000. That number will fall to 34,000 by February 2014. The size of the “residual force” that will likely remain in Afghanistan after 2014 might be announced in early 2014, with options centering on about 6,000-10,000 U.S. trainers and counterterrorism forces, assisted by about 5,000 partner forces performing similar missions. The U.S. troops that remain after 2014 would do so under a U.S.-Afghanistan security agreement that the United States says has been finalized but which President Hamid Karzai, despite significant public and elite backing for the agreement, refuses to sign until additional conditions he has set down are met. Fearing instability after 2014, some ethnic and political faction leaders are reviving their militia forces should the international drawdown lead to a major Taliban push to retake power.

The Administration remains concerned that Afghan stability after 2014 is at risk from weak and corrupt Afghan governance and insurgent safe havens in Pakistan. Among efforts to promote effective and transparent Afghan governance, U.S. officials are attempting to ensure that the next presidential election, scheduled for April 5, 2014, will be devoid of the fraud that plagued Afghanistan’s elections in 2009 and 2010. Other U.S. and partner country anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan have yielded few concrete results. An unexpected potential benefit to stability could come from a negotiated settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Negotiations have been sporadic, but U.S.-Taliban discussions that were expected to begin after the Taliban opened a political office in Qatar in June 2013 did not materialize. Afghanistan’s minorities and women’s groups fear that a settlement might produce compromises with the Taliban that erode human rights and ethnic power-sharing.

The United States and other donors continue to fund development projects while increasingly delegating project implementation to the Afghan government. U.S. officials assert that Afghanistan might be able to exploit vast mineral and agricultural resources, as well as its potentially significant hydrocarbon resources, to prevent a severe economic downturn as international donors scale back their involvement. U.S. officials also seek greater Afghan integration into regional trade and investment patterns as part of a “New Silk Road.” Persuading Afghanistan’s neighbors, particularly Pakistan, to support Afghanistan’s stability have shown some modest success over the past year.

Even if these economic efforts succeed, Afghanistan will likely remain dependent on foreign aid indefinitely. Through the end of FY2013, the United States has provided nearly $93 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, of which more than $56 billion has been to equip and train Afghan forces. The aid request for FY2014 is over $10 billion, including $7.7 billion to train and equip the ANSF. Administration officials have said that economic aid requests for Afghanistan are likely to continue at current levels through at least FY2017. See CRS Report RS21922, Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance, by Kenneth Katzman.

Date of Report: November 6, 2013
Number of Pages: 88
Order Number: RL30588
Price: $29.95

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