Signs continue to point to a decline in state sponsorship of terrorism, as well as a rise in the scope of threat posed by the independent network of exiled Saudi dissident Usama bin Ladin. Although Iran continues to actively sponsor terrorist groups, since 1997 some major factions within Iran have sought to change Iran's image to that of a more constructive force in the region. Usama bin Ladin's network, which is independently financed and enjoys safe haven in Afghanistan, poses an increasingly significant threat to U.S. interests in the Near East and perhaps elsewhere. The primary goals of bin Ladin and his cohort are to oust pro-U.S. regimes in the Middle East and gain removal of U.S. troops from the region. U.S. allegations of past plotting by the bin Ladin network suggest that the network wants to strike within the United States itself. The Arab-Israeli peace process is a longstanding major U.S. foreign policy interest, and the Administration and Congress are concerned about any terrorist groups or state sponsors that oppose the Arab-Israeli peace process. There is no consensus on the strategies for countering terrorism in the Near East. The United States, in many cases, differs with its allies on how to deal with state sponsors of terrorism; most allied governments believe that engaging these countries diplomatically might sometimes be more effective than trying to isolate or punish them. The United States is more inclined than its European allies to employ sanctions, military action, and legal pressure to compel state sponsors and groups to abandon terrorism.
CRS Report for Congress, RL31119