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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Oman: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy



Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Prior to the wave of unrest that has swept the Middle East in 2011, the United States had consistently praised Sultan Qaboos bin Sa’id Al Said for gradually opening the political process in the Sultanate of Oman in the early 1980s without evident public pressure. The liberalization allowed Omanis a measure of representation but without significantly limiting Qaboos’ role as major decision maker. Some Omani human rights activists and civil society leaders, along with many younger Omanis, were always unsatisfied with the implicit and explicit limits to political rights and believed the democratization process had stagnated. This disappointment may have proved deeper and broader than experts believed when protests broke out in several Omani cities beginning in late February 2011, after the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. The generally positive Omani views of Qaboos, coupled with economic and minor additional political reform measures and repression of protest actions, caused the unrest to subside. Some protests have continued, but sporadically, in 2012. High turnout in the October 15, 2011, elections for the lower house of Oman’s legislative body suggested the unrest produced a new public sense of activism, although with public recognition that reform will continue to be gradual. The government is also hoping that an expanded municipal elections on December 22, 2012, will further a sense of political empowerment among the electorate.

The Obama Administration has not altered policy toward Oman despite the unrest there, perhaps because Oman is a long-time U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf. It was the first Gulf Arab monarchy to formally allow the U.S. military to use its military facilities and has done so for virtually every U.S. military operation in and around the Gulf since 1980, despite the sensitivities in Oman about a visible U.S. military presence there. Oman is has become a regular buyer of U.S. military equipment, moving away from its prior reliance on British military advice and equipment. It is also a partner in U.S. efforts to counter the movement of terrorists and pirates in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. Oman also has consistently supported U.S. efforts to achieve a Middle East peace by publicly endorsing peace treaties reached and by occasionally meeting with Israeli leaders in or outside Oman. It was partly in appreciation for this alliance that the United States entered into a free trade agreement (FTA) with Oman, which is also intended to help Oman diversify its economy to compensate for its relatively small reserves of crude oil.

Unlike most of the other Persian Gulf monarchies, Oman does not perceive a major potential threat from Iran. Sultan Qaboos has consistently maintained ties to Iran’s leaders, despite the widespread international criticism of Iran’s nuclear program and foreign policy. Successive U.S. Administrations have generally refrained from criticizing the Iran-Oman relationship, perhaps in part because Oman has sometimes been useful as an intermediary between the United States and Iran. Oman played the role of broker between Iran and the United States, including in the September 2011 release of two U.S. hikers from Iran after two years in jail there. For further information on regional dynamics that affect Oman, see CRS Report RL32048, Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, by Kenneth Katzman. 
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Date of Report: November 21, 2012
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: RS21534
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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 key Iran leaders are considering the need for a nuclear compromise that would ease sanctions because:

• Oil exports provide about 70% of Iran’s government revenues and Iran’s oil exports have declined to about 1.1 million barrels per day as of October 2012, a dramatic decline from the 2.5 million barrels per day Iran exported during 2011. The main cause of that drop has been a European Union embargo on purchases of Iranian crude oil that took full effect on July 1, 2012. 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). The loss of sales has caused Iran to reduce oil production to about 2.6 million barrels of day, from the longterm baseline close to 4 million barrels per day. 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.

• The loss of hard currency revenues from oil—coupled with the cut off of Iran from the international banking system and the decline 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.

Sanctions may be slowing Iran’s nuclear program somewhat by preventing Iran from obtaining some needed technology from foreign sources. However, Department of Defense and other assessments indicate that sanctions have not stopped Iran from building up its conventional military and missile capabilities with indigenous skills. 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. And, international sanctions targeting the regime’s human rights abuses do not appear to have altered Iran’s repression of dissent or its efforts to monitor public use of the Internet.

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. Reported provisions might include sanctions on broad categories of non-oil exports to Iran. 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: November 20, 2012
Number of Pages: 87
Order Number: RS20871
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Monday, November 26, 2012

Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights


Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Iraq’s stability is threatened by a breakdown in relations among major political factions, a continuing insurgency by Sunni Muslims who resent Shiite political domination, and spillover from increasingly sectarian conflict in Syria. Sunni Arabs, always fearful that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would seek unchallenged power for Shiite factions, accuse him of sidelining high ranking Sunni Arabs from government. Iraq’s Kurds have become increasingly distrustful of Maliki over territorial, political, and economic issues, and are threatening to limit or end their involvement in the central government. The Shiite faction of Moqtada Al Sadr supported the other groups’ efforts in mid-2012 to try to oust Maliki until Iran pressed Sadr to discontinue that action. The infighting, coupled with the emboldening of Iraqi Sunni insurgents by the Sunni-led uprising in Syria, has produced increasingly ambitious attacks by Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups, particularly Al Qaeda in Iraq. These attacks are testing the ability of Iraqi security forces and undermining Maliki’s reputation as an ensurer of security and stability. The violence is intended to reignite all-out sectarian conflict, but the attacks have failed to spark such broad conflict to date. And, the political rift and the violence have not halted governance or prevented oil exportled growth. Iraq is rapidly becoming an ever larger oil producer and exporter.

The continuing violence and governmental dysfunctions have called into question the legacy of U.S. involvement in Iraq. In line with the November 2008 bilateral U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement, President Obama announced on October 21, 2011, that U.S. forces would leave Iraq entirely at the end of 2011. Insufficient Iraqi political support caused the Iraqi leadership to turn down a U.S. proposal to retain some U.S. troops after 2011. The proposal was based on U.S. doubts over the ability of Iraqi security forces to preserve the earlier gains and on a U.S. view that a continued troop presence would ensure U.S. influence beyond 2011. U.S. troops completed the withdrawal by December 18, 2011.

Iraq is responsible for its own security and it security forces number nearly 700,000 members, and it has sought to put behind it the period of U.S. occupation and political and military tutelage. However, the Administration asserts that the ongoing violence necessitates that Iraq rededicate itself to military cooperation with and assistance from the United States, using State and Defense Department programs. These have included U.S. training for Iraq’s security forces through an Office of Security Cooperation—Iraq (OSC-I) and a State Department police development program. To date, these programs have been hampered by Iraqi efforts to emerge from U.S. tutelage: the police training program has withered and OSC-I efforts have been limited by a lack of agreement with Iraq on their legal rights and privileges in Iraq. As of August 2012, in view of the violence, Iraq has requested expedited delivery of U.S. arms as well as joint training.

Although recognizing that Iraq wants to rebuild its relations in the Arab world and in its immediate neighborhood, the United States is seeking to prevent Iraq from falling under the sway of Iran. The Maliki government is inclined toward close relations with the Islamic Republic, but the legacy of Iran-Iraq hostilities, and Arab and Persian differences, limit Iranian influence. Still, Iraq has aligned with Iran’s support for Bashar Al Assad’s regime in Syria. Some see Iraq as aligning with neither Washington nor Tehran, but trying instead to reestablish its historic role as a major player in the Arab world. To do so Iraq has been trying to rebuild relations with Sunni Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Iraq took a large step toward returning to the Arab fold by hosting an Arab League summit on March 27-29, 2012.



Date of Report: November 9, 2012
Number of Pages: 57

Order Number: RS21968

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Israel: Background and U.S. Relations



Jim Zanotti
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Since Israel’s founding in 1948, successive U.S. Presidents and many Members of Congress have demonstrated a commitment to Israel’s security and to maintaining close U.S.-Israel defense, diplomatic, and economic cooperation. U.S. and Israeli leaders have pursued common security goals and have developed close relations based on common perceptions of shared democratic values and religious affinities. U.S. policymakers often seek to determine how regional events and U.S. policy choices may affect Israel’s security, and Congress provides active oversight of executive branch dealings with Israel and the broader Middle East. Some Members of Congress and some analysts criticize what they perceive as U.S. support of Israel without sufficient scrutiny of its actions. Other than Afghanistan, Israel is the leading recipient of U.S. foreign aid and is a frequent purchaser of major U.S. weapons systems. The United States and Israel maintain close security cooperation—predicated on a U.S. commitment to maintain Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over other countries in its region. The two countries signed a free trade agreement in 1985, and the United States is Israel’s largest trading partner. For more information, see CRS Report RL33222, U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel, by Jeremy M. Sharp.

Israel’s perceptions of security around its borders have changed since early 2011 as several surrounding Arab countries—including Egypt and Syria—have experienced political upheaval or transition. Of particular concern to Israel is the durability of its 33-year-old peace treaty with Egypt, where a new Islamist-led government may become more reflective of popular sentiment that includes anti-Israel strains. Israeli leaders continually call for urgent international action against Iran’s nuclear program, and have hinted at the possibility of a unilateral military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. For more information, see CRS Report R42443, Israel: Possible Military Strike Against Iran’s Nuclear Facilities, coordinated by Jim Zanotti. Israel also perceives an expanding rocket threat from non-state actors such as the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, as well as Hamas and other militants in Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Recent regional developments and Israeli reactions to them have reinforced the political impasse between Israel and the Palestinians on core issues in their longstanding conflict, calling into question the land-for-peace formula that has guided years of efforts to resolve it. Since the end of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Israel has militarily occupied and administered the West Bank, with the Palestinian Authority exercising limited self-rule in some areas since 1995. Israeli settlement of that area, facilitated by successive Israeli governments, has resulted in a population of approximately 500,000 Israelis living in residential neighborhoods or settlements in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem). These settlements are of disputed legality under international law. Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be the “eternal, undivided capital of Israel,” despite Palestinian claims to a capital in East Jerusalem and some international actors’ support for special political classification for the city or specific Muslim and Christian holy sites. Although Israel withdrew its permanent military presence and its settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, it still controls most access points and legal commerce to and from the territory.

Despite its unstable regional environment, Israel has developed a robust diversified economy and a vibrant democracy. Political debates are being shaped in new ways by population increases among Jewish ultra-Orthodox and Russian-speaking communities and Israel’s Arab citizens. Many analysts assert that national elections scheduled for January 22, 2013 will probably result in another government coalition headed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Initial reports indicate that the campaign will focus largely on Israel’s handling of the Iran and Palestinian issues—including coordination on these issues with the United States—as well as the economy.



Date of Report: November 7, 2012
Number of Pages: 39
Order Number: RL33476
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