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Issues: the International Narcotics Control Strategy Reportand the Certification Process

The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report and the certification process is an annual assessment by the United States of counternarcotics efforts around the world; in this process, the U.S. attempts to assess whether authorities are cooperating fully with U.S. counternarcotics efforts or are taking adequate steps on their own in meeting the goals and objectives of the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.
This procedure is required by U.S. law -- Section 490 of the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) of 1961, as amended. First enacted in 1986, this requirement grew out of a belief long-held by the U.S. Congress that the United States must be tougher on the major illegal drug producing and drug transit countries and regions.

FAA Section 490 requires the President of the United States to prepare a list of the major illicit drug producing and transit countries and areas -- called the "Majors" list. A country's or area's inclusion on this list is based upon the extensive presence of illicit drug production or smuggling activities; it is not based on a judgment of the authorities' counternarcotics efforts. The President of the United States must send this list to the U.S. Congress by November 1.

Between December and mid-February, the Department of State's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) coordinates an interagency decision-making process which, using the goals and objectives of the 1988 UN Convention as a benchmark, assesses the counternarcotics efforts of authorities around the world. This process pays particular attention to efforts in those countries or areas which are included on the "Majors" list. The law also requires the President to make -- and report to Congress -- a determination whether the authorities in each country or area on that list are either cooperating fully with U.S. counternarcotics efforts or taking adequate steps on their own to meet the goals and objectives of the 1988 UN Convention. The President's report, drafted by INL, is called the "International Narcotics Control Strategy Report." This report normally is sent to Congress by March 1.

The President has three choices in his certification determination: certify authorities' counternarcotics efforts as being sufficient, deny certification because authorities have not done enough to fight illicit drug production and trafficking, or grant a "vital national interests" certification. If the President denies certification to a country or area, the law requires the U.S. Government to cut off all aid -- except for specific types of humanitarian and counternarcotics assistance -- and to cut off sales or financing under the Arms Export Control Act. If a country or area has not met the standards for full certification but the President determines that the United States' vital national interests require that assistance not be withheld, the President may decide to certify the country or area on the grounds of vital national interests. In all cases, however, the President must justify his decisions to Congress.

In the 1996-1997 cycle, the United States included 32 countries and areas on the "Majors" list. U.S. President Clinton decided to "fully" certify 23 countries or areas, to deny certification in six cases, and to offer "vital national interests" certification in three cases.