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Thursday, December 27, 2012

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



Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Kuwait was pivotal to two decades of U.S. efforts to end a strategic threat posed by Iraq, because of its location, its role as the object of past Iraqi aggression, and its close cooperation with the United States. Kuwait is key to the U.S. ability to intervene in the northern Persian Gulf region now that all U.S. forces have left Iraq. Kuwait’s relations with the post-Saddam government in Iraq have been hampered by long-standing territorial, economic, and political issues unresolved from the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, but those issues have been narrowed significantly since 2011. Kuwait is increasingly suspicious of Iranian intentions in the Gulf, aligning Kuwait with U.S. efforts to contain Iranian power in the Gulf and prevent Iran from exerting undue influence in post-withdrawal Iraq. Still, Kuwait maintains relatively normal economic and political relations with Iran so as not to provoke Iran militarily or prompt it to try to empower pro-Iranian elements in Kuwait.

Although Kuwait’s foreign policy fluctuates little, its political system has been in turmoil since 2006, and is deteriorating in late 2012. Previously, the political disputes in Kuwait have taken the form of opposition among some in the elected National Assembly to the political dominance of the Al Sabah family. These disputes have aggravated—and been aggravated by—schisms within rival branches of the ruling Al Sabah. The disputes have produced five dissolutions of the National Assembly and new elections since 2006, the latest of which occurred on October 8, 2012, requiring new elections that were held on December 1, 2012.

During 2011-2012, there have been demonstrations in Kuwait by opposition groups over official corruption, security force brutality, citizenship eligibility, and other issues. Until late 2012, and in contrast with other states in the region, the demonstrations in Kuwait have been relatively small. Protests grew in size and frequency as the opposition challenged Sabah regime efforts to shape the December 1, 2012, elections to its advantage—efforts that sparked a large demonstration on October 21, 2012. Oppositionists generally boycotted the December 1 elections, lowering the turnout but giving the government an overwhelming majority in the Assembly. The opposition says it will continue its battle to reduce Sabah power through continued public protests.

Still, Kuwait is a relatively wealthy society where most citizens apparently do not want to risk their economic well-being to bring about the downfall of Al Sabah rule. And, the government has used financial largesse—budgets loaded with subsidies and salary increases—as well as some repressive measures, including beatings and imprisonments, to keep unrest contained. Although anti-Sabah sentiment appears to be increasing, demands by opposition activists remain generally confined to limiting Sabah power rather than ending the family’s rule. Still, the many years of political paralysis have led to some economic stagnation as well, because parliamentary approval for several major investment projects, such as development of major oil fields in northern Kuwait, has been held up due to the infighting. The lack of economic vibrancy has led to strikes in several economic sectors in 2012.

On other regional issues, in part because of its leadership turmoil, Kuwait tends to defer to consensus positions within the Gulf Cooperation Council; this deference is evident in Kuwait’s stances on the Israel-Palestinian dispute as well as on the uprisings in Yemen and Syria. On the uprising in Bahrain, in March 2011, Kuwait joined a Gulf Cooperation Council intervention on the side of the government, but unlike Saudi Arabia and UAE, Kuwait sent naval and not ground forces.



Date of Report: December 6, 2012
Number of Pages: 29
Order Number: RS21513
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Wednesday, December 26, 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 sanctions on Iran’s oil export lifeline, adversely affecting Iran’s economy to the point where key Iran leaders are considering the need for a nuclear compromise. Among the key causes of Iranian leaders’ worry:


  • Oil exports provide about 70% of Iran’s government revenues and Iran’s oil exports have declined to about 1.25 million barrels per day as of December 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). To date, twenty countries have been deemed in compliance. 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 Iran’s customers, 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 112
th Congress, H.R. 1905, P.L. 112-158 (“Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012”), 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. A Senate amendment to a FY2013 national defense authorization act (S. 3254), imposes sanctions on several key sectors of Iran’s economic infrastructure. 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: December 7, 2012
Number of Pages: 88
Order Number: RS20871
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Friday, December 21, 2012

Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations



Jeremy M. Sharp
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

This report provides a brief overview of the key issues for Congress related to Egypt and information on U.S. foreign aid to Egypt. The United States has provided significant military and economic assistance to Egypt since the late 1970s. U.S. policy makers have routinely justified aid to Egypt as an investment in regional stability, built primarily on long-running military cooperation and on sustaining the March 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Successive U.S. Administrations have viewed Egypt’s government as generally influencing developments in the Middle East in line with U.S. interests. U.S. policy makers are now grappling with complex questions about the future of U.S.-Egypt relations, and these debates and events in Egypt are shaping consideration of appropriations and authorization legislation in the 112th Congress.

For Obama Administration officials and the U.S. military, there is a clear desire to engage Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi’s new government on a host of issues, including immediate economic support and Sinai security. For others, opportunities for renewed diplomacy may be overshadowed by disruptive political trends that have been unleashed by the so-called Arab awakening and allowed for more expression of anti-Americanism, radical Islamist politics, antipathy toward Israel, and sectarianism, among others.

For FY2013, President Obama is requesting $1.55 billion in total bilateral aid to Egypt ($1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic aid). The aid levels requested are unchanged from FY2012 appropriations. In late September 2012, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Granger placed holds on a congressionally notified $450 million Economic Support Fund (ESF) cash transfer to Egypt. Those funds that would have been used to pay down Egypt’s bilateral debt to the United States in exchange for Egyptian government commitment to a fiscal stabilization program as prescribed by the International Monetary Fund. As of early December 2012, the holds on the cash transfer remain in place.



Date of Report: December 6, 2012
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: RL33003
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Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy



Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The United States and its partner countries are gradually reducing their military involvement in Afghanistan as they prepare the Afghan government and security forces to assume full responsibility at the end of 2014. To secure longer term U.S. gains, on May 1, 2012, President Obama signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement that will likely keep some (perhaps 10,000– 12,000) U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014 mostly as advisors and trainers. Until then, the United States and its partners will be transferring overall security responsibility to Afghan security forces, with Afghan forces to assume much of the security lead nationwide by mid-2013. The number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which peaked at about 100,000 in June 2011, has been reduced to a “pre-surge” level of 68,000 as of September 20, 2012, and will likely continue to draw down as the transition proceeds, although no decision has been made on the rate of that drawdown. However, the transition has been hampered by a pattern of attacks by Afghan forces on their coalition mentors and trainers, insurgent resiliency, and large- scale turnover in the Afghan force. In keeping with the Strategic Partnership Agreement, on July 7, 2012 (one day in advance of a major donors’ conference on Afghanistan in Tokyo), the United States named Afghanistan a “Major Non-NATO Ally,” further assuring Afghanistan of long-term U.S. support.

The Administration view is that, no matter the U.S. and allied drawdown schedule, Afghan stability after the 2014 transition is at risk from weak and corrupt Afghan governance and insurgent safe haven in Pakistan. Among other efforts to promote effective and transparent Afghan governance, U.S. officials are pushing for substantial election reform to ensure that the next presidential election, scheduled for April 2014, will be not experience the fraud of the elections in 2009 and 2010. Afghan anti-corruption institutions have been established since 2008 but, thus far, have lacked effectiveness.

There is also increased U.S. and Afghan emphasis on negotiating a settlement to the conflict. That process has proceeded sporadically since early 2010, and has not, by all accounts, advanced to a discussion of specific proposals to settle the conflict. Afghanistan’s minorities and women’s groups worry about a potential settlement, fearing it might produce compromises with the Taliban that erode human rights and ethnic power-sharing.

To promote long-term growth and prevent a severe economic downturn as international donors scale back their involvement in Afghanistan, U.S. officials also hope to draw on Afghanistan’s vast mineral and agricultural resources. Several major privately funded mining, agricultural, and even energy development programs have begun or are beginning. U.S. officials also seek greater Afghanistan integration into regional trade and investment patterns. Persuading Afghanistan’s neighbors to support Afghanistan’s stability instead of their own particular interests has been a focus of U.S. policy since 2009, but with mixed success.

Even if these economic efforts succeed, Afghanistan will likely remain dependent on foreign aid indefinitely. Through the end of FY2012, the United States has provided nearly $83 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, of which about $51 billion has been to equip and train Afghan forces. During FY2001-FY2012, the Afghan intervention has cost about $557 billion, including all costs. About $9.7 billion in economic aid and $82 billion in additional U.S. military costs are requested for FY2013. As announced in the context of the July 8, 2012, Tokyo donors’ conference, Administration 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 5, 2012
Number of Pages: 93
Order Number: RL30588
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Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Arab Spring and the Conflict in the Middle East and North Africa: A Compendium



Going on two years have passed since Mohammed Bouazizi, a young Tunisian fruit seller, set himself on fire to protest the difficult economic condit ions he faced and the humiliat ion he experienced at the hands of local police. Bouazizi’s protest was personal, but it resonated with millions of people across Tunisia and the Middle East who identified with his suffering and his defiance.

Across the region, people took to the streets, calling for political and economic reform. They expressed frustration with high unemployment, deteriorating living conditions, and a lack of economic opportunity. They called for transparency and accountability from their governments and a greater say in the decisions affecting their lives. They stood up and demanded basic rights in a region long dominated by authoritarian governments.

Nobody could have predicted what the spark for large-scale demonstrations would be or how quickly and widely these demonstrations would spread, but the seeds of discontent were evident across the region in growing labor strikes, protests over socio-economic conditions, and public outcries over regime brutality and corruption. Adding fuel to the fire, citizens feared that shifts in leadership might not lead to real change, as leaders seemed intent on hand-picking their successors.

This Compendium examines in detail so-called “Arab Spring” and other conflict-related developments in the countries of Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.


Date of Report: Decemberr 13, 2012
Number of Pages: 616
Order Number: C-12001
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