Countering the Islamic State, and More from CRS

Some 60 nations and partner organizations have made commitments to help counter the Islamic State with military forces or resources, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

But coalition efforts suffer from a lack of coherence, CRS said. “Without a single authority responsible for prioritizing and adjudicating between different multinational civilian and military lines of effort, different actors often work at cross-purposes without intending to do so.”

CRS tabulated the contributions of each of the coalition partners by country and capability. “Each nation is contributing to the coalition in a manner commensurate with its national interests and comparative advantage, although reporting on nonmilitary contributions tends to be sporadic,” the report said.

“Some illustrative examples of the kinds of counter-IS assistance countries provided as the coalition was being formed in September 2014 include: Switzerland’s donation $9 million in aid to Iraq, Belgium’s contribution of 13 tons of aid to Iraq generally, Italy’s contribution of $2.5 million of weaponry (including machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and a million rounds of ammunition), and Japan’s granting of $6 million in emergency aid to specifically help displaced people in Northern Iraq.” See Coalition Contributions to Countering the Islamic State, August 4, 2015.


The history and legal status of the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay were reviewed in another new CRS report.

“The origins of the U.S. military installation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, lie in the execution of military operations during the Spanish-American War of April-August of 1898,” the report explained. Subsequent lease agreements signed in 1903 and 1934 “acknowledged Cuban sovereignty” over the site of the military base “but granted to the United States ‘complete jurisdiction and control over’ the property as long as it remained occupied.”

The existing leases “can only be modified or abrogated pursuant to an agreement between the United States and Cuba. The territorial limits of the naval station remain as they were in 1934 unless the United States abandons Guantanamo Bay or the two governments reach an agreement to modify its boundaries. While there appears to be no consensus on whether the President can modify the agreement alone, Congress is empowered to alter by statute the effect of the underlying 1934 treaty. There is no current law that would expressly prohibit the negotiation of lease modifications with the existing government of Cuba.”

However, “Congress has imposed practical impediments to closing the naval station by, for example, restricting the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to foreign countries.” See Naval Station Guantanamo Bay: History and Legal Issues Regarding Its Lease Agreements, August 4, 2015.


Many of the issues raised by the pending Iran nuclear agreement that Congress is likely to consider were itemized and described in another new CRS report obtained by Secrecy News.

“These issues include those related to monitoring and enforcing the agreement itself, how the sanctions relief provided by the agreement would affect Iran’s regional and domestic policies, the implications for regional security, and the potential for the agreement to change the course of U.S.-Iran relations,” the report said.

See Iran Nuclear Agreement: Selected Issues for Congress, August 6, 2015.


Other new and updated CRS reports that Congress has declined to make publicly available online include the following.

Procedures for Congressional Action in Relation to a Nuclear Agreement with Iran: In Brief, updated August 5, 2015

Iran Sanctions, updated August 4, 2015

History of the Navy UCLASS (Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike aircraft) Program Requirements: In Brief, August 3, 2015

Federal Support for Reproductive Health Services: Frequently Asked Questions, August 4, 2015

Fetal Tissue Research: Frequently Asked Questions, July 31, 2015

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), updated August 6, 2015

Specialty Drugs: Background and Policy Concerns, August 3, 2015

Social Security: The Trust Funds, updated August 5, 2015

Medicare Financial Status: In Brief, updated August 10, 2015

Presidential Permit Review for Cross-Border Pipelines and Electric Transmission, August 6, 2015

EPA’s Clean Power Plan: Highlights of the Final Rule, August 14, 2015

Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy, updated August 3, 2015

U.S. Trade Concepts, Performance, and Policy: Frequently Asked Questions, updated August 3, 2015

National Security Letters in Foreign Intelligence Investigations: A Glimpse at the Legal Background, updated July 31, 2015

Nuclear Cooperation with Other Countries: A Primer, updated August 5, 2015

Iran Nuclear Deal: What’s Next?

By Muhammad Umar,

On July 14, 2015, after more than a decade of negotiations to ensure Iran only use its nuclear program for peaceful purposes, Iran and the P5+1 (US, UK, Russia, China, France + Germany) have finally agreed on a nuclear deal aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Iran has essentially agreed to freeze their nuclear program for a period of ten years, as in there will be no new nuclear projects or research related to advanced enrichment processes. In exchange the West has agreed to lift crippling economic sanctions on Iran that have devastated the country for over a decade.

President Barack Obama said this deal is based on “verification” and not trust. This means that the sanctions will only be lifted after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified that Iran has fulfilled the requirements of the deal. Sanctions can be put back in place if Iran violates the deal in any way.

All though the details of the final agreement have not yet been released, based on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed to in April, some of the key parameters the IAEA will be responsible for verifying are that Iran has reduced the number of centrifuges currently in operation from 19,000 to 6,140, and does not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years. The IAEA will also verify that Iran has reduced its current stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU) from ~10,000 kg to 300 kg and does not build any new enrichment facilities. According to the New York Times, most of the LEU will be shipped to Russia for storage. Iran will only receive relief in sanctions if it verifiably abides by its commitments.

Even after the period of limitations on Iran’s nuclear program ends, it will remain a party to the NPT, its adherence to the Additional Protocol will be permanent, and it will maintain its transparency obligations.

The President must now submit the final agreement to the US Congress for a review. Once submitted, the Congress will have 60 days to review the agreement. There is no doubt that there will be plenty of folks in Congress who will challenge the agreement. Most of their concerns will be unwarranted because they lack a basic understanding of the technical details of the agreement.

The confusion for those opposing the deal on technical grounds is simple to understand. Iran had two paths to the bomb. Path one involved enriching uranium by using centrifuges, and path two involved using reactors to produce plutonium. The confusion is that if Iran is still allowed to have enriched uranium, and keep centrifuges in operation, will it not enable them to build the bomb?

The fact is that Iran will not have the number of centrifuges required to enrich weapons grade uranium. It will only enrich uranium to 3.7 percent and has a cap on its stockpile at 300 kilograms, which is inadequate for bomb making.

Again, the purpose of the deal is to allow greater access to the IAEA and their team of inspectors. They will verify that Iran complies with the agreement and in exchange sanctions will be lifted.

Congress does not have to approve the deal but can propose legislation that blocks the execution of the deal. In a public address, the President vowed to “veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of the deal.”

The deal will undergo a similar review process in Tehran, but because it has the support of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameeni, there will be no objection.

Those opposing the deal in the United States fail to understand that although the deal is only valid for 10 to 15 years, the safeguards being put in place are permanent. Making it impossible for Iran to secretly develop a nuclear weapon.

This deal has potentially laid down a blueprint for future nuclear negotiations with countries like North Korea. Once the deal is implemented, it will serve as a testament for diplomacy. It is definitely a welcome change from the experience of failed military action in Iraq, a mess we cannot seem to get out of to this day.

A stable Iran with a strong economy will not only benefit the region but the entire world. The media as well as Congress should keep this fact in mind as they begin to review the details of the final deal.

This is a tremendous victory for the West as well as Iran. This deal has strengthened the non-proliferation regime, and has proven the efficacy of diplomacy.

The writer is a visiting scholar at the Federation of American Scientists. He tweets @umarwrites.

Dept of State Delays Release of Iran History

The U.S. Department of State has blocked the publication of a long-awaited documentary history of U.S. covert action in Iran in the 1950s out of concern that its release could adversely affect ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

The controversial Iran history volume, part of the official Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, had been slated for release last summer. (“History of 1953 CIA Covert Action in Iran to be Published,” Secrecy News, April 16, 2014).

But senior State Department officials “decided to delay publication because of ongoing negotiations with Iran,” according to the minutes of a September 8, 2014 meeting of the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation that were posted on the Department of State website this week.

Dr. Stephen P. Randolph, the Historian of the State Department, confirmed yesterday that the status of the Iran volume “remains as it was in September” and that no new publication date has been set. The subject was also discussed at an Advisory Committee meeting this week.

The suppression of this history has been a source of frustration for decades, at least since the Department published a notorious 1989 volume on U.S. policy towards Iran that made no mention of CIA covert action.

But the latest move is also an indirect affirmation of the enduring significance of the withheld records, which date back even further than the U.S. rupture with Cuba that is now on the mend.

It seems that the remaining U.S. records of the 1953 coup in Iran are not only of historical interest but they evidently hold the power to move whole countries and to alter the course of events today. Or so the State Department believes.

“The logic, as I understand it, is that the release of the volume could aggravate anti-U.S. sentiment in Iran and thereby diminish the prospects of the nuclear negotiations reaching a settlement,” said Prof. Richard H. Immerman, a historian at Temple University and the chair of the State Department Historical Advisory Committee.

“I understand the State Department’s caution, but I don’t agree with the position,” he said. “Not only is the 1953 covert action in Iran an open secret, but it was also a motive for taking hostages in 1979. The longer the U.S. withholds the volume, the longer the issue will fester.”

Besides, if the documents do have an occult power to shape events, maybe that power could be harnessed to constructive ends.

“I would argue that our government’s commitment to transparency as signaled by the release of this volume could have a transformative effect on the negotiations, and that effect would increase the likelihood of a settlement,” Prof. Immerman suggested.

“At least some in the Iranian government would applaud this openness and seek to reciprocate. Further, the State Department of 2014 would distinguish this administration from the ‘Great Satan’ image of 1953 and after,” he said.

Continued secrecy has become an unnecessary obstacle to the development of US-Iran relations, argued historian Roham Alvandi in a similar vein in a New York Times op-ed (“Open the Files on the Iran Coup,” July 9, 2014).

“Moving forward with a new chapter in American-Iranian relations is difficult so long as the files on 1953 remain secret,” he wrote. “A stubborn refusal to release them keeps the trauma of 1953 alive in the Iranian public consciousness.”


The State Department published a new Foreign Relations of the United States volume today on the Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1978-80. It is the ninth FRUS volume of the year, and it came out “a little ahead of schedule,” said Dr. Randolph, the Department Historian.

Iran: Interim Nuclear Agreement, and More from CRS

New products from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has withheld from online public distribution include the following.

Iran: Interim Nuclear Agreement and Talks on a Comprehensive Accord, November 26, 2014

U.S. International Corporate Taxation: Basic Concepts and Policy Issues, December 2, 2014

Taxation of Internet Sales and Access: Legal Issues, December 1, 2014

The Corporate Income Tax System: Overview and Options for Reform, December 1, 2014

How OFAC Calculates Penalties for Violations of Economic Sanctions, CRS Legal Sidebar, December 1, 2014

What Is the Current State of the Economic Recovery?, CRS Insights, December 1, 2014

Employment Growth and Progress Toward Full Employment, CRS Insights, November 28, 2014

Major Disaster Declarations for Snow Assistance and Severe Winter Storms: An Overview, December 1, 2014

Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations, December 2, 2014

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, December 2, 2014

Verification Requirements for a Nuclear Agreement with Iran

Negotiations are currently underway with Iran regarding their nuclear program; as a result, one of the main questions for U.S. government policymakers is what monitoring and verification measures and tools will be required by the United States, its allies, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful.

To answer this question, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) convened a non-partisan, independent task force to examine the technical and policy requirements to adequately verify a comprehensive or other sustained nuclear agreement with Iran. Through various methods, the task force interviewed or met with over 70 experts from various technical and policy disciplines and compiled the results in the new report, “Verification Requirements for a Nuclear Agreement with Iran.” Authored by task force leaders Christopher Bidwell, Orde Kittrie, John Lauder and Harvey Rishikof, the report outlines nine recommendations for U.S. policymakers relating to a successful monitoring and verification agreement with Iran.  They are as follows:


Six Elements of an Effective Agreement

1. The agreement should require Iran to provide, prior to the next phase of sanctions relief, a comprehensive declaration that is correct and complete concerning all aspects of its nuclear program both current and past.

2. The agreement should provide the IAEA, for the duration of the agreement, access without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the IAEA, as currently required by UN Security Council Resolution 1929.

3. The agreement should provide that any material acts of non-cooperation with inspectors are a violation of the agreement.

4. The agreement should provide for the establishment of a consultative commission, which should be designed and operate in ways to maximize its effectiveness in addressing disputes and, if possible, building a culture of compliance within Iran.

5. The agreement should provide that all Iranian acquisition of sensitive items for its post-agreement licit nuclear program, and all acquisition of sensitive items that could be used in a post-agreement illicit nuclear program, must take place through a designated transparent channel.

6. The agreement should include provisions designed to preclude Iran from outsourcing key parts of its nuclear weapons program to a foreign country such as North Korea.


Three Proposed U.S. Government Actions to Facilitate Effective Implementation of an Agreement

1. The U.S. Government should enhance its relevant monitoring capabilities, invest resources in monitoring the Iran agreement, and structure its assessment and reporting of any Iranian noncompliance so as to maximize the chances that significant anomalies will come to the fore and not be overlooked or considered de minimis.

2. The U.S. Government and its allies should maintain the current sanctions regime architecture so that it can be ratcheted up incrementally in order to deter and respond commensurately to any Iranian non-compliance with the agreement.

3. The U.S. Government should establish a joint congressional/executive branch commission to monitor compliance with the agreement, similar to Congress having created the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor the implementation of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.

Download Full Report Download Report Summary


Congress Should Delay Action on New Sanctions Against Iran

Economic sanctions have proven effective against Iran, but at this point they will only interfere with peaceful negotiations over their nuclear program. Chris Bidwell, Senior Fellow for Nonproliferation and Law writes that Congressional action toward new sanctions against Iran now would make the U.S. appear bellicose and uninterested in a policy change on Iran’s nuclear program.

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Implications of the Recent Deal With Iran on Getting Controls on Civilian Nuclear Fuel Cycles

FAS President Dr. Charles Ferguson takes a look at one of the largest challenges to nonproliferation: how states can walk up to the line of crossing into nuclear weapons capabilit by developing uranium enrichment plants or reprocessing plants. Could the new deal with Iran have implications for Japan and other non-nuclear weapon states like South Korea that aspire to acquire enrichment or reprocessing capabilities? The answer is yes.

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DC Event: Challenges in Verifying a Nuclear Deal with Iran

The American Society of International Law will host a briefing on Friday, February 28, 2014 in Washington, DC on challenges in verifying a nuclear deal with Iran. Speakers include David Albright from the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) and Orde Kittrie from Arizona State University.

The event will be held in Rayburn House Office Building Room B-354 from 12-1:30 pm; lunch will be provided.

RSVP to [email protected]

The event is organized by Christopher Bidwell, FAS Senior Fellow for Nonproliferation Law and Policy.

One Step at a Time With Iran


As hoped, the P5+1 and Iran settled on a “first step” agreement to resolve concerns about Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons and its interest in doing so. We cannot predict how far this process will go or what the next step to establish a comprehensive, enduring agreement that puts the nuclear issue squarely in the past will include. But we can predict that we will never know how good a final agreement can be unless all sides work in good faith to support the process and abstain from taking actions that could potentially undermine it.

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Air Force Intelligence Report Provides Snapshot of Nuclear Missiles

Click to download full report

By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) has published its long-awaited update to the Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat report, one of the few remaining public (yet sanitized) U.S. intelligence assessment of the world nuclear (and other) forces.

Previous years’ reports have been reviewed and made available by FAS (here, here, and here), and the new update contains several important developments – and some surprises.

Most important to the immediate debate about further U.S.-Russian reductions of nuclear forces, the new report provides an almost direct rebuttal of recent allegations that Russia is violating the INF Treaty by developing an Intermediate-range ballistic missile: “Neither Russia nor the United States produce or retain any MRBM or IRBM systems because they are banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty, which entered into force in 1988.”

Another new development is a significant number of new conventional short-range ballistic missiles being deployed or developed by China.

Finally, several of the nuclear weapons systems listed in a recent U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command briefing are not included in the NASIC report at all. This casts doubt on the credibility of the AFGSC briefing and creates confusion about what the U.S. Intelligence Community has actually concluded.  Continue reading