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President Obama Hosts Indonesian President; Congress Scrutinizes The U.S. Middle East Policy; House Vote Ahead On Reauthorization Of The U.S. Ex-Im Bank
Monday, October 26, 2015

Indonesia – Washington Visit

This afternoon, President Barack Obama will welcome President Joko Widodo of Indonesia to the White House. President Widodo is making his first visit to the United States since becoming President of Indonesia. President Obama and President Widodo are expected to discuss plans to expand existing areas of bilateral cooperation, including in defense, trade and investment, climate and energy, as well ways to pursue new growth areas for the partnership, such as maritime cooperation.

Syrian and Iraqi Crises

The Department of Defense announced last Tuesday that the United States and Russia had signed a Memorandum of Understanding that includes steps pilots from each country should take to avoid unintended clashes in the air above Syria. Department Spokesman Peter Cook also confirmed that the two sides will form a working group to discuss any future implementation issues.

American and Kurdish forces raided an Islamic State prison in Iraq last Thursday, freeing about 70 captives believed to be facing mass execution. The operation left one U.S. soldier dead, reportedly the first U.S. military combat casualty in Iraq since President Obama pulled out all U.S. troops in 2011. While U.S. Special Operations forces have staged several raids on Islamic State compounds in Syria since last year, Thursday’s operation was the first known raid against ISIL in Iraq.

Last Friday, President Obama thanked General John Allen for his 13 months of service as the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. The President announced that Brett McGurk will next serve, when General Allen steps down next month.

  • On Tuesday, 27 October, the Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “United States Military Strategy in the Middle East.” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford are expected to testify.

  • On Tuesday, 27 October, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Examining the Syrian Humanitarian Crisis from the Ground (Part II).”

  • On Wednesday, 28 October, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “The U.S. Role and Strategy in the Middle East.”

Ukraine Crisis

In joint remarks with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier last Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States is hopeful the Minsk agreements will be fully implemented, noting that the ceasefire has held for approximately 50 days and progress is being made. Secretary Kerry met Friday with his Turkish, Russian, and Saudi counterparts to discuss the Syrian conflict, among other issues.

Last Tuesday, the House of Representatives approved H. Res. 348, a non-binding measure regarding upcoming elections in Ukraine. On the House floor before the vote, Representative Eliot Engel (D-New York), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said that the U.S. will be looking for the completion of specific benchmarks required by the Minsk agreements before elections take place, including the removal of all Russian forces from the area.

Iran – Scrutinized for Possibly Violating a U.N. Ban

In a letter last Wednesday, the United States, Britain, France and Germany called for the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee to take action over a missile test by Tehran that they said violated a U.N. ban. Iran has disputed the Western assessment that the missile was capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

Pakistan – Recap of Last Week’s Visit to Washington

President Obama welcomed Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the White House last Thursday with promises to strengthen a relationship with an ally viewed as instrumental to brokering peace in Afghanistan. While the leaders announced no timeline for the stalled peace talks and did not address concerns over the growth of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, they touted new initiatives on trade, clean energy, and education for girls.

NDAA Vetoed

Fulfilling his longstanding pledge, President Obama vetoed the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last Thursday afternoon. While the House of Representatives is expected to vote on overriding this action, the veto will likely be sustained. Attention now turns to Congressional negotiators who are making slow progress towards a budget solution.

Ex-Im Bank Update

Ahead of this week’s expected House vote on renewing the U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank, Club for Growth issued a “key vote” alert urging House members to vote no. In a Dear Colleague letter to Republican offices on Friday, House Financial Services Committee Chair Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and Rules Committee Chair Pete Sessions (Texas) also urged their fellow party members to vote against reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank.

TPP Deal – Text (Still) Eagerly Awaited

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman failed to meet a 6 October request for the Administration to make the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) text available to members of Congress by 19 October. Some believe the government change in Canada may further delay public release of the final agreement. Meanwhile, in continued outreach to Congress on the TPP deal, President Obama met last Wednesday evening with House and Senate Democrats, who support his trade agenda but are reserving their opinion on the trade pact until the text is released.

According to a new fact sheet released last week by the Department of Agriculture, Japan will establish a new, duty-free country-specific quota for U.S. rice. The quota will initially be set at 50,000 tons, and will grow to 70,000 tons in 13 years.

TTIP Negotiations Conclude in Florida

U.S. and EU negotiators met in Miami, Florida, this week for the 11th round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) discussions. Negotiators exchanged proposals on product-specific rules of origin and the EU tabled its proposal on sustainable development; however, the United States did not reciprocate. The EU surprised the United States in its revised market access proposal by pushing for longer tariff phase-outs on over one hundred categories of industrial goods as compared to its previous offer.

At a press conference on Friday at the conclusion of the negotiations, Dan Mullaney, the U.S. chief negotiator, said,

“We believe that it is important to try to finish these negotiations during President Obama’s presidency. To do that, we’ll need to use our time with maximum efficiency.”

Meanwhile, long-time transparency advocate Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) called on Friday for the Obama Administration to follow the European Union’s lead and release U.S. negotiating proposals in the TTIP talks.

AGOA Enhancement Bill Markup

On Wednesday, 28 October, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will mark-up H.R. 2845, The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Enhancement Act of 2015. The bill was introduced on 19 June by Chairman Ed Royce (R-California) and would create an AGOA website, as well as promote trans-boundary, regional trade facilitation.

Global Fishing Industry

Last Friday, Secretary Kerry praised the Senate’s unanimous approval of the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015, saying it demonstrates clear leadership in the fight to protect global fish stocks and the millions of people who depend on them. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law, at which time the United States will likely move to ratify the Port State Measures Agreement. Secretary Kerry noted: “Global implementation of robust and coordinated port state measures will make it harder and more expensive for criminals to evade the rules by reducing the number of ports worldwide where IUU fishing products can be landed.”

Other Upcoming Congressional Hearings

  • On Tuesday, 27 October, the House Armed Services Committee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Shortening the Defense Acquisition Cycle.”

  • On Tuesday, 27 October, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights is expected to hold a hearing titled, “The Global Crisis of Religious Freedom.”

  • On Tuesday, 27 October, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Game Changers – Undersea Warfare.”

  • On Wednesday, 28 October, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Transition Assistance Program – A Unity of Effort.”

  • On Wednesday, 28 October, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for U.S. Ambassador-Nominees to Libya, Oman, Tajikistan and the Organization For The Prohibition Of Chemical Weapons; as well as the nominee to be Executive Vice President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

  • On Wednesday, 28 October, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Assessing DOD’s Assured Access to Micro-Electronics in Support of U.S. National Security Requirements.”

  • On Thursday, 29 October, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Future Options for the U.S. Nuclear Deterrent – Views from Project Atom.”

  • On Thursday, 29 October, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Thomas Shannon to be the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 26 October: President Obama hosts President Joko Widodo of Indonesia

  • [TBD] November: President Obama hosts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

  • 14-22 November: President Obama travels to Turkey, the Philippines, and Malaysia

  • 30 November-11 December: U.N. Global Climate Conference in Paris

  • 15-18 December: 10th WTO Ministerial Conference to be held in Nairobi, Kenya

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