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Monday, October 29, 2012

Iran’s Nuclear Program: Status



Paul K. Kerr
Analyst in Nonproliferation

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 centrifugebased 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 August 2012, Iran had produced an amount of LEU containing up to 5% uranium- 235 which, if further enriched, could theoretically produce enough HEU for several nuclear weapons. Iran has also produced LEU containing up to 20% uranium-235, but, as of August 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 U.N. 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.



Date of Report: October 17, 2012
Number of Pages: 53
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Afghanistan Casualties: Military Forces and Civilians



Susan G. Chesser
Information Research Specialist

This report collects statistics from a variety of sources on casualties sustained during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), which began on October 7, 2001, and is ongoing. OEF actions take place primarily in Afghanistan; however, OEF casualties also include American casualties in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Guantanamo Bay (Cuba), Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines, Seychelles, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Yemen.

Casualty data of U.S. military forces are compiled by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), as tallied from the agency’s press releases. Also included are statistics on those wounded but not killed. Statistics may be revised as circumstances are investigated and as records are processed through the U.S. military’s casualty system. More frequent updates are available at DOD’s website at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/ under “Casualty Update.”

A detailed casualty summary of U.S. military forces that includes data on deaths by cause, as well as statistics on soldiers wounded in action, is available at the following DOD website: http://siadapp.dmdc.osd.mil/personnel/CASUALTY/castop.htm.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) does not post casualty statistics of the military forces of partner countries on the ISAF website at http://www.isaf.nato.int/. ISAF press releases state that it is ISAF policy to defer to the relevant national authorities to provide notice of any fatality. For this reason, this report uses fatality data of coalition forces as compiled by CNN.com and posted online at http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2004/oef.casualties/index.html.

Reporting on casualties of Afghans did not begin until 2007, and a variety of entities now report the casualties of civilians and security forces members. The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) reports casualty data of Afghan civilians semiannually, and the U.S. Department of Defense occasionally includes civilian casualty figures within its reports on Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, http://www.aihrc.org/ 2010_eng/, and the Afghan Rights Monitor, http://www.arm.org.af/, are local watchdog organizations that periodically publish reports regarding civilian casualties. From July 2009 through April 2010, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) included statistics of casualties of members of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police in its quarterly reports to Congress. SIGAR has ceased this practice, and there is no other published compilation of these statistics. This report now derives casualty figures of Afghan soldiers and police from the press accounts of the Reuters “Factbox: Security Developments in Afghanistan” series, the Pajhwok Afghan News agency, the Afghan Islamic Press news agency, Daily Outlook Afghanistan from Kabul, and the AfPak Channel Daily Brief. These services attribute their reported information to officials of the NATO-led ISAF or local Afghan officials. The Afghan news agencies frequently include statements from representatives of the Taliban; however, any figures such spokesmen provide are not included in this report.

Because the estimates of Afghan casualties contained in this report are based on varying time periods and have been created using different methodologies, readers should exercise caution when using them and should look to them as guideposts rather than as statements of fact.



Date of Report: October 11, 2012
Number of Pages: 7
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Monday, October 22, 2012

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses



Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

A priority of Obama Administration policy has been to address the perceived threat posed by Iran to a broad range of U.S. interests, in particular the potential threat posed by the advance of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. These advances have caused the government of Israel to assert that it might take unilateral military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities unless the United States provides assurances that it will act, militarily if necessary, to prevent Iran from taking the final steps toward developing a nuclear weapon. Aside from the nuclear issue, the United States has long seen a threat to U.S. interests posed by Iran’s support for militant groups in the Middle East and in Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. officials 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.

The Obama Administration has orchestrated broad international pressure on Iran through economic sanctions, while also offering Iran sustained engagement if it verifiably demonstrates to the international community that its nuclear program is peaceful. Iran’s leaders returned to nuclear talks with six powers in April 2012 after a one year hiatus. Three rounds of talks held in April, in May, and in June yielded no breakthroughs, but did explore a potential compromise under which Iran might end uranium enrichment to 20% purity (a level not technically far from weapons grade) in exchange for substantial sanctions relief. Technical talks were held on July 3, 2012, with further conversations between Iranian and EU negotiators during July—September 2012. These conversations produced no announcement of another round of high level talks. The Administration expresses frustration that no settlement has been reached, but it asserts that there is time and space for the accumulated sanctions to compel Iran’s leaders to compromise before U.S. military action be considered. 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 that went into full effect on July 1, 2012—the regime has begun to acknowledge significant economic pressure. Those pressure led to a virtual collapse in the market value of Iran’s currency, the rial, in early October 2012. Since late 2011, both Britain and Canada, have closed their embassies in Iran.

The Administration and many outside experts also perceive that the legitimacy and popularity of Iran’s regime is in decline, although not to the point where the regime’s grip on power is threatened. There are few outward signs that the opposition in Iran or in exile have gained traction against the regime, even though international sanctions are causing clear public frustration over deteriorating economic conditions. The reformist boycott of the March 2, 2012, parliamentary elections rendered the election a contest between factions supporting either President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i. Khamene’i supporters were elected overwhelmingly, helping him solidify his control over day-to-day governance. It is likely that only hardliners will be significant candidates in the next presidential election to be held on June 14, 2013.

The 112th Congress has supported additional economic sanctions against Iran, most recently with enactment of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (H.R. 1905, P.L. 112-158), which expands sanctions against companies that conduct energy and financial transactions with Iran. Additional sanctions are reportedly under consideration by the European Union and by some Members of Congress. 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.



Date of Report: October 11, 2012
Number of Pages: 86
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Friday, October 19, 2012

Iran Sanctions



Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

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 112th 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 112th 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.



Date of Report: October 15, 2012
Number of Pages: 86
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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy



Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The UAE’s relatively open borders and economy have won praise from advocates of expanded freedoms in the Middle East while producing financial excesses, social ills such as human trafficking, as well as opportunity for both illicit and legitimate Iranian businesses to operate there. Moreover, the social and economic freedoms have not translated into significant political opening; the UAE government remains under the control of a small circle of leaders, even as it allows informal citizen participation and traditional consensus-building. The leadership opposes any dramatic or rapid opening of the political process, such as the establishment of a powerful, fully elected legislature, and it has sought to prevent the rise of Islamist movements inspired by the 2011-12 revolutions in some Arab states. Economic wealth—coupled with some government moves against political activists—have enabled the UAE to avoid wide-scale popular unrest from advocates of such reforms. Still, there is evidence of simmering discontent about the privileges enjoyed by the UAE ruling elite as well as the government strategy of spending large amounts of funds on elaborate projects that cater to expatriates and international tourists.

The UAE leadership has asserted that political reform will be gradual and limited. Lacking popular pressure for elections, the UAE long refrained from following other Gulf states’ institution of electoral processes. It altered that position in December 2006 when it instituted a selection process for half the membership of its consultative body, the Federal National Council (FNC). Possibly to try to ward off the unrest sweeping the region, the government significantly expanded the electorate for the September 24, 2011, FNC election process. However, turnout was only about 25%, suggesting that the clamor for democracy in UAE remains limited or that the citizenry perceived the election as unlikely to produce change. And, the government has not announced a major expansion of the FNC’s powers.

On foreign policy issues, the UAE—along with fellow Gulf state Qatar—has become increasingly assertive in recent years - a product of the UAE’s ample financial resources and its drive to promote regional stability. The UAE has joined the United States and U.S. allies in backing and then implementing most international sanctions against Iran, causing friction with its powerful northern neighbor. It has ordered the most sophisticated missile defense system sold by the United States, making the UAE pivotal to U.S. efforts to assemble a regional missile defense network. It has deployed troops to Afghanistan since 2003. In 2011, it sent police to help the beleaguered government of fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) state Bahrain, supported operations against Muammar Qadhafi of Libya, joined the GCC diplomatic effort that brokered a political solution to the unrest in Yemen, backed the Arab League suspension of Syria, and appointed an Ambassador to NATO. It gives large amounts of international humanitarian and development aid, for example for relief efforts in Somalia.

For the Obama Administration and many in Congress, there were early concerns about the UAE oversight and management of a complex and technically advanced initiative such as a nuclear power program. This was underscored by dissatisfaction among some Members of Congress with a U.S.-UAE civilian nuclear cooperation agreement. The agreement was signed on May 21, 2009, submitted to Congress that day, and entered into force on December 17, 2009. However, concerns about potential leakage of U.S. and other advanced technologies through the UAE to Iran, in particular, have been largely alleviated by the UAE’s development of strict controls, capable management, and cooperation with international oversight of its nuclear program.



Date of Report: October 4, 2012
Number of Pages: 28
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