Countries of Concern

views updated

Chapter 6
Countries of Concern


For much of its history, U.S. national security concerns were focused primarily on other nations, and international terrorism was at most a secondary issue. During the cold war the Soviet Union and China amassed huge military forces and thousands of nuclear weapons. For decades the United States fought the spread of communism with diplomatic and economic means and through long military engagements in Korea and Vietnam. The United States, however, never engaged in direct military conflict with the Soviet Union or China for fear of starting a nuclear war. Since the end of the cold war the threats posed by other nations to the United States have greatly diminished, but they have not disappeared.

Communist China has become strong politically and militarily and strives to wield more diplomatic and economic power in the world. Even though the United States views this transformation uneasily, relatively good relations between the two countries have been maintained. The same was true for the U.S.-Russian relationship until conflict broke out in August 2008 between Russia and neighboring Georgia, a former republic of the Soviet Union. The Georgian region of South Ossetia borders Russia and has historically been politically and culturally aligned with Russia. In 1991 South Ossetia declared itself a separate republic, but Georgia refused to acknowledge the separation. Russian and Georgian troops maintained an uneasy peace along the border until Georgia accused Russia of launching a missile into Georgian territory. Days later Russian troops swept into South Ossetia claiming that Georgian troops had attacked them and Russian citizens living in the breakaway region. The Russians seized control of South Ossetia and launched air raids against certain parts of Georgia. Russias actions evoked strong criticism from world leaders, including President George W. Bush (1946). As of September 2008, Russian troops remained in South Ossetia. This situation and continued Russian support for two other breakaway territories in the regionAbkhazia (officially a part of Georgia) and Trans-Dniester (officially a part of Moldova) have created a tense political climate that is reminiscent of the cold war and threatens future relations between Russia and the United States.

The situation in the Middle East is also troublesome. Many nondemocratic regimes in the region flourish on oil revenues but repress their populations, who are now restless and militant-minded. U.S. support of these repressive governments and for Israel during its long-standing conflict with the Palestinians has aggravated anti-American sentiments. Some countries are considered a threat because U.S. policy makers worry their governments might provide international terrorists with weapons or other support, which happened in Afghanistan before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Meanwhile, the lure of the ultimate weapon has tempted a handful of nations to defy international conventions and develop nuclear weapons programs. Some of these countries are U.S. allies, but others are openly hostile toward the United States. The members of this latter group are of great concern to U.S. national security.


On January 29, 2002, just a few months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President Bush described in his annual State of the Union speech an axis of evil in the world consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. These three nations were singled out for allegedly sponsoring terrorist acts and trying to build or obtain weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). In 2003 the United States invaded Iraq to remove it as a threat to national security. As described in Chapter 4, the result has been a long and difficult struggle for U.S. forces against

TABLE 6.1 Public opinion on which country is the United States' greatest enemy, February 2008 .
(vol.) = Volunteered response.
SOURCE: Lydia Saad, What One Country Anywhere in the World Do You Consider to Be the United States- Greatest Enemy Today? in North Korea Drops out of Top Three U.S. Enemies, The Gallup Organization, March 28, 2008, (accessed August 4, 2008). Copyright © 2008 by The Gallup Organization. Reproduced by permission of The Gallup Organization.
 Feb. 11-14, 2008
North Korea/Korea9
United States itself3
Saudi Arabia1
None (vol.)2
No opinion3

determined and deadly militants opposed to the occupation. However, the toppling of the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (19372006) did effectively eliminate Iraq from membership in the axis of evil.

In North Korea Drops out of Top Three U.S. Enemies (March 28, 2008,, Lydia Saad of the Gallup Organization reports on a February 2008 poll that asked Americans to name the one country in the world they considered to be Americas greatest enemy. Iran garnered the most mentions (25%). (See Table 6.1.) Other nominees included Iraq (22%), China (14%), and North Korea/Korea (9%). Together, these four countries were named by 70% of poll participants. Three percent of respondents identified Afghanistan, and interestingly, the United States itself, as the United States greatest enemy. Pakistan and Russia each garnered 2% of the vote. Saudi Arabia and Venezuela were each named by 1% of the poll participants. According to Saad, Iran was also named the United States greatest enemy in 2006 and 2007 Gallup polls.

In December 2007 the Gallup Organization asked Americans to name the country they considered to be the greatest threat to stability in the world. Iran received the most mentions (31%), compared to China (20%), the United States (11%), Korea/North Korea (10%), and Iraq (9%). (See Table 6.2.)

TABLE 6.2 Public opinion on which country is the greatest threat to world stability, December 2007
SOURCE: Question qn4. What Single Country Do You Consider to Be the Greatest Threat to Stability in the World? in December Panel Survey, The Gallup Organization, December 2007, (accessed August 9, 2008). Copyright © 2007 by The Gallup Organization. Reproduced by permission of The Gallup Organization.
Don't know4.2443
Korea/North Korea9.9199
Saudi Arabia0.667
N = Population.


Iran lies in a section of Asia known as the Middle East. (See Figure 6.1.) The nations capital is Tehran. Irans largest neighbors include Turkmenistan to the north, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east, and Turkey and Iraq to the West. The Persian Gulf lies to the south of Iran and separates it from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrain. The Strait of Hormuz, a narrow passage, separates Iran from the United Arab Emirates and Oman. The Strait of Hormuz is the only connection between the Persian Gulf and the open ocean.

For centuries Iran was part of a series of empires and was called Persia by the outside world. In 1935 its name was officially changed to Iran. Beginning in 1941 the country was led by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (19191980). In 1979 the shah was overthrown by his people and forced to leave the country during a revolution that swept the Islamic cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (19001989) into power. The country adopted a constitution and changed its name to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Khomeini initiated a cultural revolution that sought to remove influences of Western culture and instill conservative Islamic morals and customs. He served as Irans supreme leader until his death in 1989, when he was replaced by Sayyid Ali Khamenei (1939).

The supreme leader is considered Irans spiritual leader and chief of state for life. Every four years the

country elects government officials, including a president and members of the 290-seat Majlis (the Iranian parliament). The most recent parliamentary elections were held in 2008. In The World Factbook: Iran (August 21, 2008, geos/ir.html), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) notes that 170 of the seats were won by Islamic conservatives and IslamistsMuslims who advocate absolute integration of Islam into matters of government. In 2005 the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (1956) was elected president of Iran by a wide majority. Presidential elections are held every four years.

Iran has substantial petroleum resources. The CIA estimates that in 2006 Iran produced nearly 4.2 million barrels per day, most of which was exported. Oil accounts for 85% of the governments revenue.

Foreign Relations

In 1979 President Jimmy Carter (1924) allowed the ousted shah of Iran to enter the United States for medical treatment. The United States had supported the shah throughout his reign, even though his regime was considered brutal and corrupt by the Iranian people. The U.S. action incited radical elements within Iran who feared that the United States planned to reinstall the shah to power. Angry groups of students protested in the streets and then seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Dozens of American hostages were held at the embassy for 444 days until their release in 1981.

Despite repeated demands from the U.S. government, Khomeini refused to intervene in the hostage crisis. During and after the Iranian Revolution Khomeini often criticized the United States, referring to it as the great Satan. Carter tried a variety of diplomatic and military options to release the hostages during their long ordeal. Diplomatic relations with Iran were terminated and Iranian assets in U.S. banks were frozen. A rescue attempt by U.S. troops in 1980 ended in disaster when some of the helicopters accidentally crashed after secretly entering Iran. Eight U.S. servicemen were killed. The hostage release was ultimately achieved via diplomatic means. The hostage crisis severely damaged U.S. relations with Iran, and as of September 2008 the two countries had not restored diplomatic relations with each other.

Hussein launched an invasion of Iran by Iraqi forces in 1980. The resulting war lasted until 1988. In A Country Study: Iraq (November 8, 2005,, the Library of Congress (LOC) explains that the war was motivated by a variety of political, religious, and ethnic factors. Husseins largely secular government feared the spread of Islamic conservatism from Iran to Iraq. In addition, Iraqis are predominantly of Arab descent, whereas Iranians are mostly of Persian ethnicity. Both countries are primarily Muslim with the Shia version of Islam practiced by a majority of their populations. However, Iraqs ruling party at the time was made up of Sunni Muslims. There are centuries-old disputes between the two factions of Islam. The LOC notes that Hussein and Khomeini had deep personal differences and that Hussein saw the war as a chance to enhance Iraqs power in the Middle East. However, eight years of bloody fighting produced no clear winner, so a cease-fire was finally negotiated.

In 1984 the U.S. Department of State (DOS) designated Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism because of Iranian support for organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. As of September 2008, Iran retained this designation, making it subject to a variety of sanctions and legal penalties imposed by the United States.

During the mid-1990s executive orders issued by President Bill Clinton (1946) and passage of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 put restrictions on U.S. and international investments in Iran. Table 6.3 lists the U.S. sanction laws targeting Iran as of December 2007. Note that in 2006 the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act was renamed the Iran Sanctions Act because of improving relations between the United States and Libya.

TABLE 6.3 U.S. sanctions laws targeting Iran, December 2007
aThis law was enacted as the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000; Restriction on Extraordinary Payments in Connection with the International Space Station, Pub. L. No. 106178, 114 Stat. 38; Syria was added to the act in 2005 by the Iran Nonproliferation Amendments Act of 2005, Pub. L. No. 109112, &4, 119 Stat. 2366, 2369; and North Korea was added in 2006 by the North Korea Nonproliferation Act of 2006, Pub. L. No. 1092353, 120 Stat. 2015.
bEnacted by the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 1993, Pub. L. No. 102484, Title XVI, 106 Stat. 2315, 257175 (1992). We are unable to distinguish between Iran and Iraq sanction cases, as this information is classified.
cThis act was originally enacted as the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104172, 110 Stat. 1541; Libya was removed from the law in 2006 by the Iran Freedom Support Act, Pub. L. No. 109293, 120 Stat. 1344. Proliferation-related sanctionable activities were added to the law in 2006.
source: Adapted from Table 1. U.S. Sanction Laws Targeting Iran, in Iran Sanctions: Impact in Furthering U.S. Objectives Is Unclear and Should Be Reviewed, U.S. Government Accountability Office, December 2007, (accessed August 5, 2008)
U.S. lawSanctionable activitiesUse of sanctions
Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation ActaTransfer to Iran of goods, services, or technology listed in various multilateral export control arrangements or that contribute to weapons of mass destruction or missile programs.Sanctions imposed 111 times since 2000 in Iran-related cases, including:
  • 52 instances against Chinese parties,
  • 9 instances against North Korean parties,
  • 8 instances against Syrian parties, and
  • 7 instances against Russian parties.
Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act of 1992bTransfer to Iran of controlled goods or technology so as to contribute knowingly and materially to Iran's efforts to acquire destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons.Sanctions imposed 12 times in 2002 and 2003.
Iran Sanctions ActcInvestment of $20 million or more within a 12-month period that directly and significantly contributed to the enhancement of Iran's ability to develop its petroleum resources.Sanctions never imposed, though state officials note that the law has been used as a tool in diplomatic efforts.
 Exports, transfers, or other provision to Iran of any goods, services, technology or other items knowing that the provision of such items would contribute materially to Iran's ability to acquire or develop chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons or related technologies; or destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons. 

Late in the 1990s Iranian voters elected moderate reform-minded candidates to the presidency and the Majlis, and many observers became optimistic about improved U.S.-Iranian relations. These expectations were dashed when conservatives reasserted their authority in the Iranian government, and Irans nuclear ambitions were exposed. Irans alleged support of violent anti-American insurgents in Iraq has further strained U.S.-Iranian relations.

Irans Nuclear Program

The Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT; 2000, originally went into force in 1970 after being negotiated by the United Nations (UN). The United States and the Soviet Union were among the original signers of the treaty. It forbids countries with nuclear weapons from transferring nuclear weapons or related explosive devices to any recipient whatsoever. No assistance can be offered to a nonnuclear weapon nation to manufacture or acquire the weapons. The parties to the treaty also agree to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons and to take measures leading toward nuclear disarmament. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), founded in 1957, verifies that parties comply with the NPT.

According to Sharon Squassoni of the Congressional Research Service (CRS), in Irans Nuclear Program: Recent Developments (September 6, 2006,, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCR) alerted the world in 2002 about Irans nuclear activities. The NCR is a coalition of Iranian dissident groups based outside the country. The NCR reported that Iran had nuclear facilities at Natanz (which is approximately 100 miles [161 km] north of Esfahan) and near Arak (a small town southwest of Qom). (See Figure 6.1.)

IAEA investigators discovered that significant nuclear activities had been taking place that were not reported to the IAEA, which was a violation of the NPT that Iran ratified in 1970. Iranian officials admitted they had been conducting a number of undeclared activities, and that in the late 1980s they received a so-called nuclear cookbook with instructions for producing nuclear weapon parts. The cookbook was allegedly created by the Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan (1935), who has been linked to many illicit transfers of nuclear technology to nonnuclear nations. Squassoni notes that IAEA inspectors found two uranium enrichment facilities at Natanza pilot-scale plant in operation and a commercial-scale plant under construction. Iran had been conducting experiments with heavy-water reactors at the Arak site.

In late 2003 Iran ceased some of its uranium enrichment activities and began negotiations with IAEA officials and diplomats from three European Union countries: Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. However, negotiations broke down in August 2005, and Iran resumed operations and construction at its nuclear facilities. The IAEA reported Iran to the UN Security Council for violating the NPT.

UN RESOLUTIONS. Between July 2006 and March 2008 the UN Security Council passed four resolutions calling on Iran to suspend its nuclear activities and begin cooperating fully with IAEA investigators. In Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses (May 6, 2008, rpts/RL32048_20080506.pdf), Kenneth Katzman of the CRS describes Resolutions 1696, 1737, 1747, and 1803. According to Katzman, the requirements of the latter three resolutions can be summed up as follows:

  • Iran must suspend its uranium enrichment programs
  • The transfer to Iran of nuclear, missile, and similar materials is prohibited unless the materials are intended for use in light-water nuclear reactors
  • Iran is forbidden to export arms or technology that could be used to produce WMDs
  • The assets of dozens of Iranian individuals and companies are to be frozen in other countries
  • Travel bans or restrictions are to be placed against dozens of Iranian individuals

In addition, the resolutions call on other nations to refuse to export arms to Iran or conduct new business with Iran and to monitor Iranian bank activities within their borders and air and sea shipments bound for Iran.

Katzman notes that Iran has steadfastly refused to cease its uranium enrichment activities as demanded by the UN resolutions.

INCENTIVES AND THREATS. Katzman reports that European Union nations and the United States have repeatedly offered Iran incentives, including cessation of some U.S. sanctions, in return for Irans compliance with the UN resolutions. Several Western nations have also threatened new sanctions if Iran does not comply. Strict measures are routinely opposed by China and Russia, who have historically been trading partners of Iran. Predominantly Muslim countries have also been reluctant to support UN actions against Iran.

The rhetoric expressed by U.S. and Iranian leaders has escalated dramatically in recent years. In a September 2006 speech, President Bush (September 5, 2006, quoted President Ahmadinejad as saying that Western nations that wish to have good relations with Iran should bow down before the greatness of the Iranian nation and surrender and if they do not that Iran will force them to surrender. Bush responded, America will not bow down to tyrants, and reiterated his vow that the worlds free nations will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.

IS IRAN DEVELOPING NUCLEAR WEAPONS? In late 2007 U.S. fears about Irans possible nuclear weapons program were cooled somewhat by the release of Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities (November 2007, http://www.dnigov/press_releases/20071203_releasepdf). In this report the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) expresses the following opinions:

  • Moderate confidence that as of mid-2007 Iran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program.
  • Moderate-to-high confidence that in mid-2007 Iran did not have a nuclear weapon.
  • Moderate-to-high confidence that Iran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.
  • Moderate confidence that Iran probably will be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon sometime between 2010 and 2015.

The ODNI concludes that Irans decision to halt its nuclear weapons program in 2003 was probably driven by international pressure, giving hope to current and future U.S. and UN efforts in this regard.

Irans Role in Iraq

Besides the United States long-standing concerns about Irans links to international terrorism and possible nuclear weapons program, the United States is deeply troubled by Iranian support of insurgents in Iraq. This issue is explored at length by Katzman, in Irans Activities and Influence in Iraq (August 22, 2008,http://wwwfasorg/sgp/crs/mideast/RS22323pdf). As noted earlier, the Muslim populations of both Iran and Iraq are predominantly Shiite. According to Katzman, Irans strategy in Iraq has been to perpetuate domination of Iraqs government by pro-Iranian Shiite Islamists, while also developing leverage over the United States by aiding Shiite militias that are willing to combat U.S. forces. Iran reportedly saw the ousting of Hussein by U.S. forces in 2003 as an opportunity for pro-Iranian Shiites to assume power in Iraq. Iranian involvement in Iraq through 2005 is believed to have been mostly political. The situation changed dramatically in 2006 with a sudden escalation of sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq.

Moqtada Al Sadr (1973?) is an Iraqi Shiite cleric with religious and political ties to Iran. He has many followers including tens of thousands of militiamen called the Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM; Mahdi Army). Katzman

notes that in 2005 Iran began shipping arms to JAM and encouraging attacks against Sunnis and occupying U.S. forces. JAM is believed to have received logistical aid from Iranian Qods agents. The Qods (or Jerusalem Force) is a politically conservative military organization in Iran that aids pro-Iranian militants in other countries. The U.S. military has reportedly captured more than a dozen Qods agents inside Iraq.

Throughout 2007 and early 2008 U.S. military leaders accused Iran of supplying JAM with money, support, and arms, including armor-piercing explosives that have killed hundreds of U.S. troops. Another Iran-linked faction in Iraq is called the Badr Organization. Badr militia-men have reportedly infiltrated the Iraqi Security Forces (army and police) and instigated violence against Iraqi Sunnis. However, in 2007 JAM and Badr forces began fighting against one another for control of Shiite-majority cities in Iraq. Shiite civilians were often the casualties in these skirmishes. Lessening civilian and political support for the militants and a U.S. troop surge between 2007 and 2008 have combined to weaken JAM and Badr power. In May 2007 U.S. and Iranian diplomats met in Iraq to begin discussions about stabilizing Iraq. It is believed that Iran dramatically reduced arms shipments to Iraq around that time. Katzman concludes that Iranian influence remains extensive in Iraq, but is projected to fade as Iraqi nationhood becomes stronger.

The Future of U.S.-Iranian Relations

In The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (March 2006, nsc/nss/2006/nss2006.pdf), President Bush notes that we may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran. He also states, The Iranian regime sponsors terrorism; threatens Israel; seeks to thwart Middle East peace; disrupts democracy in Iraq; and denies the aspirations of its people for freedom. The nuclear issue and our other concerns can ultimately be resolved only if the Iranian regime makes the strategic decision to change these policies, open up its political system, and afford freedom to its people. This is the ultimate goal of U.S. policy. In the interim, we will continue to take all necessary measures to protect our national and economic security against the adverse effects of their bad conduct.

The Bush administration has continuously denied that the United States is planning military action against Iran. Nevertheless, there were widespread media reports in the spring of 2008 that the U.S. military was developing plans for a military strike against Iran. According to the article El Baradei Warns against Strike on Iran (CNN, June 22, 2008), Mohamed El Baradei (1942), the head the IAEA, told an Arab television interviewer that the Middle East would become a ball of fire if Iran

TABLE 6.4 Public opinion on whether the true purpose of Iran's nuclear program is to produce nuclear power or to produce nuclear weapons, December 2007
SOURCE: Question qn11. From What You Have Heard or Read, Do You Think the True Purpose of Iran's Nuclear Program Isto Produce Nuclear Power or to Produce Nuclear Weapons? in December Panel Survey, The Gallup Organization, December 2007, questionnaire.aspx?STUDY_P0712010 (accessed August 4, 2008). Copyright © 2007 by The Gallup Organization. Reproduced by permission of The Gallup Organization.
                                                                                                        Total N: 1004
Mean: N/A%N
To produce nuclear power27.23273
To produce nuclear weapons66.71669
Don't know4.6346
N _ Population.

was attacked. The remarks came soon after Israel waged a practice aerial military exercise widely believed to be a warning to Iran about its nuclear program. Israeli officials have publicly threatened a military strike against Irans nuclear reactors. The two countries are bitter enemies. In 2005 Ahmadinejad, who was the newly elected conservative president of Iran, reportedly said that Israel should be wiped off the map.

U.S. Public Opinion about Iran

In December 2007 the Gallup Organization polled Americans on their opinions about Irans nuclear program. Over two-thirds (67%) of the respondents said the true purpose of Irans nuclear program is to produce nuclear weapons. (See Table 6.4.) Only 27% thought the programs true purpose is to produce nuclear power. Thirty-three percent of respondents said Irans nuclear program poses a very serious threat. (See Table 6.5.) Twenty-eight percent thought it poses a somewhat serious threat, and 37% said it does not pose a threat.


North Korea is a small country that sits on a peninsula jutting out of the coastline of East Asia. (See Figure 6.2.) The nations capital is Pyongyang. North Korea is bordered on the north by China and Russia and to the south by South Korea. Japan lies a few hundred miles to the southeast, across the Sea of Japan. North and South Korea were once a single nation. Japan invaded Korea in 1905 and occupied it through World War II (19391945). Following the war, the Allied powers split the Korea Peninsula into two countries, with the northern part falling under Soviet control and the southern part under U.S. control. In

TABLE 6.5 Public opinion on whether Iran's nuclear program poses a serious threat to the United States, December 2007
SOURCE: Question qn10. Do You Think Iran's Nuclear Program Poses a Serious Threat to the United States, or Not? [IF YES, ASK:] Is That a Very Serious Threat or a Somewhat Serious Threat? in December Panel Survey, The Gallup Organization, December 2007, August 4,2008). Copyright © 2007 by The Gallup Organization. Reproduced by permission of The Gallup Organization.
                                                                                                        Total N: 1004
Mean: N/A%N
Yes, very serious threat32.88330
Yes, somewhat serious threat28.36285
No, does not pose a threat37.42376
Don-t know1.2212
N _ Population.

1948 South Korea became an independent nation called the Republic of Korea. North Korea calls itself the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. It was ruled by Kim Il Sung (19121994) from 1948 until his death in 1994, when his son Kim Jong-Il (1942) assumed power.

In The World Factbook: North Korea (September 4, 2008,, the CIA describes North Korea as a communist state one-man dictatorship. All of its political parties are controlled by the major party: the Korean Workers Party. Even though elections were held in 2003, Kim Jong-Il was the only person nominated for chief of state and ran unopposed. The country has a 687-seat Supreme Peoples Assembly; however, candidates are appointed by the nations rulers and run unopposed in elections. The CIA reports that decades of poor governance and economic mismanagement have rendered North Korea unable to feed many of its people. The population is highly dependent on international food aid and is believed to suffer from widespread malnutrition and poor living conditions. Most of the nations resources are used to maintain its large military establishment, which is estimated to number around one million troops. North Koreas total population was estimated at nearly 23.5 million in July 2008.

Foreign Relations

In 1950 North Korean forces backed by the Soviet military invaded South Korea, setting off the Korean War. The United States was caught off guard by the invasion but rushed to defend South Korea from a communist take-over. Over the next three years U.S. and allied forces under the UN fought against North Korean and Chinese troops supported by the Soviet Union. The war ended in a stalemate with both sides back where they had started: on either side of the thirty-eighth parallel (a line of latitude). In 1953 a cease-fire agreement ended the armed conflict in Korea. North Korea remained under communist control, whereas South Korea became a democracy protected by UN troops (primarily U.S. forces).

During the war the United States imposed economic sanctions against North Korea that would last for more than four decades. North Korea became highly dependent on its communist allies, particularly the Soviet Union and China, for foreign trade. The breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s eliminated a major political ally and trading partner for North Korea; however, its close relationship with China has continued.

North Koreas Nuclear Program

Larry A. Niksch of the CRS notes in North Koreas Nuclear Weapons Program (May 25, 2006, that in 1985 North Korea signed the NPT. In 1987 it began operating an atomic reactor near Pyongyang, ostensibly to produce electrical power. U.S. intelligence agencies discovered in 1989 that the reactor had been shut down for more than two months. It is suspected that the used fuel rods in the reactor

were removed and reprocessed for their plutonium content. (High-grade plutonium can be used to produce a nuclear weapon.) Similar reactor shutdowns occurred in successive years. During a May 1994 shutdown approximately eight thousand used fuel rods were removed. Scientists estimate these rods likely contained enough plutonium to produce four to six nuclear weapons.

AGREED FRAMEWORK. The U.S. government was disturbed by the removal and by IAEA reports that North Korea was withholding data, being uncooperative, and threatening to withdraw from the NPT. In response, the United States threatened to bring new economic sanctions against North Korea through the UN. The two countries eventually negotiated an agreement known as the Agreed Framework that called for North Korea to remain a party to the NPT, freeze its nuclear program, and dismantle nuclear reactors under IAEA supervision in exchange for the following concessions from the United States:

  • Easing of economic sanctions
  • Full diplomatic relations
  • Two light-water nuclear reactors and 500,000 metric tons (3.7 million barrels) of oil
  • Formal assurance that the United States would not threaten to use or use nuclear weapons against North Korea

The United States began shipping oil to North Korea, made preliminary arrangements for the light-water nuclear reactors, and began to phase out some economic sanctions. According to Niksch, North Korea complained loudly that U.S. efforts did not meet the intent of the Agreed Framework. Negotiations failed on assumption of full diplomatic relations.

In 2002 the Agreed Framework fell apart after the United States accused North Korea of operating since 1996 a secret program to develop nuclear weapons using highly enriched uranium instead of reprocessed plutonium. Niksch notes that James A. Kelly (1936), the U.S. assistant secretary of state, claimed that North Korean officials told him about the highly enriched uranium program in October 2002. North Korea has repeatedly denied the claim. The United States immediately ceased oil shipments to North Korea; North Korea responded by expelling IAEA inspectors, withdrawing from the NPT, and restarting its plutonium reprocessing operations.

SIX-PARTY TALKS. In 2003 the United States and North Korea began a series of negotiations that included high-ranking officials from South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia. The so-called six-party talks were initiated after the United States refused to hold bilateral (two-party) meetings with North Korea. Many rounds were held in which virtually no progress was achieved in resolving the disputes at issue. Since the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003, respectively, North Korea has become increasingly concerned about a military strike from U.S. forces. In 2003 North Korean officials publicly announced that the country does have nuclear weapons. Subsequent announcements have included hostile and threatening rhetoric toward the United States. After the November 2005 six-party talks North Korea temporarily refused to meet again in protest of new accusations from the United States that North Korea has been conducting illegal activities, including drug trafficking and the counterfeiting of U.S. currency.

By the late 1990s North Korea had developed intercontinental ballistic missiles that were capable of reaching Alaska. According to Niksch, U.S. intelligence agencies believed that by 2003 nuclear warheads had been produced for the missiles. In July 2006 the world was stunned when North Korea test fired seven unarmed missiles toward the Sea of Japan to demonstrate their capabilities. One of the missiles was a Taepodong 2, which is thought to have a range of perhaps 1,860 miles (2,993 km). That missile failed after approximately forty seconds and fell into the sea. The other six missiles were short-range missiles.

Since 1999 North Korea had maintained a moratorium on the testing of long-range missiles following international outcry over such a test in 1998. Japan and South Korea, in particular, have expressed concern about North Koreas missile capabilities. Both nations host large U.S. military bases, which could be targets for the missiles in wartime. The timing of the July 2006 missile launches appears to have been politically motivated. Even though they were launched on July 5 in North Korea, it was still July 4 in the Western Hemisphere. U.S. officials called the missile launches provocative behavior. The UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution urging North Korea to resume six-party talks and prohibiting member nations from transferring to North Korea either money or technology that could support the development of WMDs. North Korea received further international condemnation in October 2006, when it conducted an underground test of a nuclear weapon. Two months later it returned to the six-party talks.

In October 2007 North Korea agreed to end its nuclear program in exchange for foreign economic and energy aid. It was supposed to turn over its declaration (i.e., documents detailing its program) by the end of the year. North Korea missed that deadline, but in the spring and summer of 2008 it turned over thousands of documents on the program and destroyed the cooling tower at its main reactor site. On June 28, 2008, President Bush lifted most of the sanctions that had been in place against North Korea since 1950 under the Trading with the Enemy Act. He also notified Congress of his intention to remove North Korea from the state sponsor of terrorism list. According to the

DOS, in Background Note: North Korea (August 2008,, the removal will take place after a verification program is established to verify the declarations made by the North Korean government.

U.S. Public Opinion

Frank Newport of the Gallup Organization reports in Americans Favor Diplomacy with North Korea, Not Military Action (July 13, 2006, about a poll that was conducted days after the July 2006 missile launch to gauge American attitudes about how the U.S. government should handle North Korea. A majority (72%) of respondents preferred the use of diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions to get North Korea to stop testing and developing missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Another 10% felt that nothing should be done. Nine percent opted for military action, such as air strikes and missile attacks, and 3% chose invasion with ground troops.

During the same poll, respondents were asked to categorize North Korea as one of the following: ally; friendly, but not an ally; unfriendly; or enemy. Nearly half (47%) of the respondents rated North Korea as an enemy. Just over one-third (34%) chose to describe the nation as unfriendly. Ten percent of poll participants judged North Korea to be friendly, but not an ally, and 2% named the country an ally of the United States.

Newport notes that Americans were asked to rate the threat posed by North Korea to the United States. Only 20% of those asked considered North Korea an immediate threat. A greater number (59%) rated the country as a long-term threat, and 15% believed North Korea does not pose a threat to the United States. According to Newport, these percentages have remained consistent since the poll question was first asked in 2003. In other words, the missile launches of July 2006 appear to have had no discernible effect on American attitudes about the threat posed to U.S. national security by North Korea.


Even though Iran and North Korea are considered the countries posing the most threat to U.S. national security, there are other countries of concern. These include three nations deemed state sponsors of terrorism: Cuba, Syria, and Sudan.


The Republic of Cuba is a small island lying between the Caribbean Sea to the south and the Gulf of Mexico and the North Atlantic Ocean to the north. (See Figure 6.3.)

Cuba is only 90 miles (145 km) southeast of Key West, Florida. It is a communist state that was ruled for nearly five decades by one man: Fidel Castro (1926). In February 2008 he stepped down as Cubas president due to ill health. His brother, Raúl Castro Ruz (1931), officially became Cubas leader.

Historically, Cuba enjoyed close economic and military ties to the former Soviet Union. The demise of the Soviet Union during the early 1990s sent Cuba into a sharp economic recession from which it has never recovered. According to the CIA, in The World Factbook: Cuba (September 4, 2008, publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cu.html), the standard of living for the average Cuban was less in 2008 than it was before the loss of Soviet aid.

Cuba and the United States have had a contentious relationship since Fidel Castro took power. In 1961 CIA-backed Cuban exiles attempted to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro. They were soundly defeated in a battle at the Bay of Pigs, a small bay located south of Matanzas along the southern coast of the island. Only a year later President John F. Kennedy (19171963) and the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev (18941971) faced off after U.S. intelligence agencies discovered that the Soviets had installed nuclear missile facilities in Cuba. After a suspenseful twelve-day diplomatic standoff, the Soviets backed down and agreed to dismantle the facilities. The United States implemented the first of many economic sanctions against Cuba. With only a handful of exceptions, American citizens were forbidden to travel to Cuba. The United States issued an open invitation to Cuban citizens wanting to flee to the United Statesthey could became eligible for citizenship after only a year of residency. Over the next four decades a succession of U.S. presidents openly expressed support for Cuban exiles and dissidents seeking the overthrow of Castros government.

During the Carter administration in the late 1970s the two countries decided to partially restore diplomatic relations. The United States opened an Interests Section office in the Swiss embassy in Havana, the capital of Cuba. Then in 1996 the Cuban military shot down two U.S. civilian airplanes near Cuba, killing four peopleall of whom were members of a Cuban-American group opposed to the Castro regime. In retaliation, President Clinton imposed new economic sanctions against Cuba that were passed by Congress in the Helms-Burton bill. In Bill Clinton on Sanctions against Cuba: Amy Goodman Interviews Bill Clinton (November 8, 2000,, an interview about Fidel Castro and the plane incident, Clinton said, Sometimes I wonder if he shot them down just to make sure the embargo couldnt be lifted, because as long as he can blame the United States, then he doesnt have to answer to his own people for the failures of his economic policy.

In November 2001 Cuba was struck by Hurricane Michelle and suffered severe damage to its agricultural industry. In an unprecedented move, the United States sold shipments of food to Cuba as part of a humanitarian effort. There was talk in the United States of dropping the economic sanctions against Cuba. In the speech Lift the United States Embargo on Cuba (July 26, 2001,, Representative Ron Paul (1935) of Texas noted that while sanctions may serve our patriotic fervor, they mostly harm innocent citizens and do nothing to displace the governments we claim as enemies. However, relaxing the sanctions was staunchly opposed by many conservatives in the U.S. government and members of the politically powerful Cuban exile movement centered in Miami, Florida.

In 2002 former president Carter was invited by Castro to visit Cuba for a series of meetings. It was the first visit by a high-ranking U.S. official since Castro took power. However, the Bush administration decided to take a hard line against Cuba. Immediately before Carters visit, the administration accused Castro of cooperating with terrorist organizations in the development of WMDs. Cuba has been on the DOSs list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1982.

As of September 2008, the United States maintained strict sanctions against Cuba, but was cautiously optimistic that better relations may be possible in the future. These issues are discussed by Mark P. Sullivan of the CRS in Cubas Political Succession: From Fidel to Raúl Castro (February 29, 2008, Sullivan notes that the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 requires that several conditions be met in Cuba before the U.S. embargo can be ended. These include a government that does not include Fidel Castro or Raúl Castro. In addition, the new Cuban government must be civilian, rather than military and must legalize all political activity, release all political prisoners, respect the human rights of its citizens, and reform the nations justice system.


Syria is a small Middle Eastern nation bordered on the south by Iraq and Jordan and on the west by Lebanon and Israel. (See Figure 6.4.) To the north is Turkey, and the northwestern coast of Syria abuts the Mediterranean Sea. Syrias capital is Damascus, which is located in the southwestern part of the country near the Lebanese border. In 1946 Syria achieved independence after years of French rule. Decades of political instability and military coups culminated in 1970 with the assumption of power by Hafez Assad (19302000). According to the CIA, in The World Factbook: Syria (September 4, 2008,, Assad was a member of the Socialist Baath

Partya pan-Arab organization. After his death in 2000 the presidency was turned over to his son, Bashar al-Assad (1965). The CIA describes the Syrian government as a republic under an authoritarian military-dominated regime. The official name of the country is the Syrian Arab Republic.

Syria and Israel have been enemies since the foundation of Israel in 1948, and have fought several wars. Most notable among them was the Six-Day War in 1967, during which Israel captured the Golan Heights. Israel has occupied this strategic piece of land along Syrias border with Israel ever since, deepening the divisions between the two countries. Syria has been on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1979, primarily for its support of groups that conduct terrorist activities against Israel. Alfred B. Prados of the CRS explains in Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues (March 13, 2006, that Syria openly admits supporting Palestinian, Hamas, and Hezbollah attacks against Israeli occupation of disputed territories. Syria considers these attacks to be legitimate resistance activity, rather than terrorism.

In 1976 Syria sent troops and intelligence personnel into neighboring Lebanon during the Lebanese civil war. According to Prados, up to forty thousand Syrian troops were in Lebanon by the late 1970s, and Syria began to wield considerable influence over Lebanese politics. An agreement reached with the Arab League in 1989 was supposed to sharply curtail Syrian involvement in Lebanon but was never fully implemented. In February 2005 Rafiq Hariri (19442005), the former Lebanese prime minister, was assassinated. Hariri had been openly criticizing Syrias military presence in Lebanon, and Syrian agents were suspected in his assassination. Two months later Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon following intense pressure from the Lebanese people and the international community.

The United States has maintained economic sanctions against Syria since the 1970s. U.S.-Syrian relations have been particularly strained since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. U.S. officials have accused Syria of allowing, and perhaps facilitating, the passage of militia fighters and arms across its border into Iraq to aid the insurgency against U.S. troops. Syria has denied these claims. The Syrian government is primarily secular and views Islamic fundamentalism, such as that espoused by al Qaeda, as a threat to its own stability. However, a major issue of contention is Syrias continued support for Hezbollah, which maintains a large contingent of militia fighters in Lebanon. In July 2006 Hezbollah guerrillas crossed the border into Israel and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, setting off a thirty-four-day armed conflict that left hundreds dead in Israel and Lebanon. A cease-fire negotiated by the UN went into effect in August 2006.

In September 2007 the Israeli air force destroyed a nuclear reactor under construction in northeastern Syria. The events that led up to the raid and its political ramifications are examined by Jeremy M. Sharp of the CRS in Syria: Background and U.S. Relations (May 1, 2008, http://assetsopencrscom/rpts/RL33487_20080501pdf). According to Sharp, the U.S. intelligence services believe Syria received help from North Korea in designing and building the reactor. Even though the Bush administration admits conferring with Israel about the Syrian reactor before the air strike, it denies that the United States okayed or participated in the raid. Syria angrily denounced Israel and the United States for the raid and has sworn revenge.


Sudan is the largest country in Africa, approximately the size of the United States east of the Mississippi River. Sudan is in the north-central part of the African continent and lies due south of Egypt. (See Figure 6.5.) The capital of Sudan is Khartoum. The northeastern portion of the country is bounded by the Red Sea. Sudan has been an independent state since 1956; however, it has suffered from decades of civil war, social unrest, and political instability. According to the DOS, in Background Note: Sudan (July 2008,, the Sudanese population is extremely diverse and

includes hundreds of ethnic, tribal, and language groups. The two major groups are Arabic-speaking Muslims and black Africans. The northern part of the country contains most of the population and is urban in nature. The rural south is sparsely populated by a wide variety of tribal groups that follow many different traditional beliefs. The DOS estimates that more than two million people in southern Sudan have died as a result of civil war and approximately four million have been displaced from their homes. Sudans total population was estimated at 39.4 million in 2007.

In 2002 an agreement was reached granting the southern rebels the right to self-determination. In January 2005 a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed that calls for a new Sudanese government based on power-sharing. National elections are expected to take place in 2009.

This agreement did not lead to peace throughout Sudan, however. During the successful negotiations between the Sudanese government and the main body of southern rebels, unrest broke out in the western region of Darfur. This rebellion within a rebellion was led by groups of farmers the DOS describes as non-Arabized black African Muslims. The governments crackdown on these rebels has precipitated a humanitarian crisis in Darfur and has been criticized by the international community as attempted genocide. (Genocide is the eradication of an entire group of people based on their nationality, ethnicity, religion, or race.) In July 2007 the UN Security Councils Resolution 1769 authorized deployment of a peacekeeping force in Darfur. The troops have been supplied by the African Union, a cooperative venture between several African nations.

U.S.-Sudanese relations have been poor for decades. The rift was deepened by U.S. support for Israel during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and by the murders of American diplomats in Sudan during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1989 General Omar Hassam Ahmed Bashir (1935) overthrew the existing ruler and installed a government known as the National Islamic Front. According to the DOS, Bashir supported many terrorist organizations during the 1990s and provided a safe haven for notorious terrorists, such as Osama bin Laden (1957) and Abu Nidal (19372002). In 1993 the United States designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism. Throughout the remainder of the decade the United States imposed ever-stricter economic and trade sanctions against Sudan. In 1998 U.S. missile strikes were conducted against targets in Khartoum in retaliation for Sudanese involvement in the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Relations improved somewhat at the turn of the twenty-first century as Sudan began cooperating with the United States in its War on Terror. The DOS notes that the United States has been a major donor of humanitarian aid to Sudan, donating more than $1 billion in 2007. Future diplomatic relations will depend on the policies adopted by a future Sudanese government.