President Obama’s UNGA Schedule

President Barack Obama is in New York City (NYC) attending the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) until Tuesday. He delivered remarks at the closing session of the Post-2015 Development Agenda after he arrived Sunday afternoon.  The President will address the UNGA this morning, where he is expected to review progress made over the last year and address a range of global challenges. Following his remarks, he will meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to build on discussions they had during President Obama’s historic trip to India earlier this year. Following their meeting, President Obama will attend a lunch hosted by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the leaders, and he will have brief meetings with the U.N. Secretary-General and the President of the U.N. General Assembly.

Later this afternoon, President Obama will co-host a Summit on Peacekeeping, which remains a U.S. priority at the United Nations. Following the Summit, the President will have a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This evening, the President will host his traditional reception for the leaders who are attending the UNGA. On Tuesday, the President will host the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Summit, which will focus on combating ISIL and other violent extremism, as well as address the continued flow of foreign fighters into Syria. The White House expects that additional bilateral meetings will be scheduled while President Obama is in NYC. This may include a bilateral meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro, as speculated by the press.

While President Obama will not be attending the Sunday Climate Change event hosted by the U.N. Secretary-General, the White House said the President hopes the U.N. meeting will result in sustained momentum for a successful outcome at the Climate Change Conference later this year in Paris.

Russia/Ukraine Crisis

President Obama is expected to raise the situation in Ukraine and continued U.S. support for the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty during his meeting this afternoon with President Putin; a meeting the White House says President Putin requested. Ukraine has scheduled local elections for 25 October, but, according to the White House, it remains unclear clear that Russia is committed to implementing its Minsk agreement obligations, which includes supporting a local election that is consistent with Ukrainian law and that will be overseen by the international community.

The Monday meeting is also expected to be an opportunity for President Obama to make clear to President Putin that the United States supports full implementation of the Minsk agreements and diplomatic efforts by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande to advance this goal. U.S. allies in Europe urged President Obama to take the meeting with President Putin, believing it may be constructive for President Putin to hear directly from the United States.  Prior to the Presdient’s today’s bilataral meeting, Secretary Kerry met Sunday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, where he discussed Ukraine and Syria.

Last Thursday, Ukrainian Minister of Defense Stepan Poltorak met with U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in Washington to discuss ongoing U.S. and NATO training and exercises. Their conversation underscored how Russia’s increased engagement in Syria has complicated the U.S.-Ukraine relationship, as Secretary Carter took special care to reassure his colleague that ongoing discussions on Syria will not take away from the United States’ condemnation of Russia’s alleged actions in Ukraine “or change our sanctions or security responses in response to those destabilizing actions.”

On Wednesday, 30 September, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will receive a closed briefing on the economic situation in Ukraine from IMF Managing Director Christine Legarde.

Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of State John Kerry met Saturday with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in NYC.  Secretary Kerry was expected to raise a variety of topics, including implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, Americans detained in Iran, and ongoing concerns with Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, including its reported activities in Syria, Iraq, and/or Yemen, as well as threats to Israel. The White House has not indicated whether President Obama will meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani while in NYC.

Syrian Crisis

President Obama is also expected to discuss with President Putin Russia’s military presence and involvement in Syria, specifically Russia’s stated intentions that it is enhancing or increasing its military involvement in Syria in order to support efforts to counter ISIL. As the Obama Administration has previously stated, the United States would welcome a constructive Russian contribution to the global effort to counter ISIL, but maintains a political transition of the Syrian regime remains instrumental for successful resolution of the challenge posed by ISIL in Syria.

U.S. Papal Visit

President Obama welcomed the Pope to the White House last Wednesday morning. Pope Francis became the first Pope to address a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday morning. Extending the theme raised with President Obama and Congress, Pope Francis addressed the UNGA on Friday, saying he and other Christians are seeking urgently-needed, effective solutions to climate change. He cited the pending Paris climate deal and the adoption of the United Nations’ sustainable development agenda.

Chinese Head of State Visit to Washington

Last Thursday and Friday, President Obama hosted President Xi at the White House on an official State Visit.  Climate change was a top agenda item in their bilateral meetings.  As the world’s two biggest carbon emitters, U.S. and Chinese leadership on reducing emissions is viewed as critical, and the meetings were intended to outline commitments the United States and China will take to Paris in December.  On Friday, the two Presidents released a Joint Statement on Climate Change, and the White House released an accompanying fact sheet.

The White House also released a fact sheet on the bilateral economic relationship and a fact sheet that focused on areas where the two countries would expand and deepen their cooperation: Afghanistan, peacekeeping, nuclear security, wildlife trafficking, and ocean conservation.  In the latter fact sheet, the two countries also agreed to cybersecurity-related parameters, including establishing a high-level joint dialogue mechanism for combatting cybercrime and related issues.  President Xi met Friday with U.S. lawmakers, where it was expected Members would likely raise concerns ranging from cybersecurity to biotechnology to currency.

Africa

On Saturday, National Security Advisor (NSA) Susan Rice congratulated the people of Burkina Faso for their success in defending Burkinabe democracy and reinstating the transitional government earlier last week.  She added the United States will continue to stand with the people of Burkina Faso as they prepare for democratic elections.

Also on Saturday, NSA Rice announced ambitious PEPFAR prevention and treatment targets for 2016 and 2017.  She said the United States is committing resources to ensure PEPFAR will by the end of 2017 support 12.9 million people on life-saving anti-retroviral treatment, provide 13 million male circumcisions for HIV prevention, and reduce HIV incidence by 40 percent among adolescent girls and young women within the highest burdened areas of 10 sub-Saharan African countries.

Congress to Focus on Cybersecurity

On Tuesday, 29 September, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing to examine the U.S. cybersecurity policy and threats. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is expected to testify alongside Pentagon officials. The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will also hold a Defense Department-focused cybersecurity hearing with private sector witnesses on Tuesday. The HASC hearing on Wednesday, 30 September, will focus on implementation of the Defense Department’s cyber strategy, with Pentagon officials scheduled to testify. The House Foreign Affairs Committee will also hold a hearing Wednesday titled, “Cyber War: Definitions, Deterrence, and Foreign Policy.” Private sector witnesses will be testifying at this congressional hearing.

NDAA Update

According to the House legislative schedule released by House Majority Leader McCarthy last Friday, later this week, the House may consider the Conference Report to Accompany H.R. 1735, Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.

Ex-Im Update

On Tuesday, 22 September, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) and Representative Maxine Waters (D-California) said the House Republican leadership had indicated it is willing to bring to the floor legislation to reauthorize the lapsed U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank charter. Congressman Hoyer suggested the CR or the Highway bill may be potential legislative vehicles for renewing Ex-Im.

With Speaker of the House John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) surprise retirement announcement last Friday, it remains unclear whether Majority Leader McCarthy (the presumptive next Speaker) will uphold the outgoing Speaker’s promise and allow an open amendment process for any bill from the Senate containing an Ex-Im renewal provision. Majority Leader McCarthy, Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Michigan) currently oppose Ex-Im.

TPP Update

Ahead of this week’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Ministerial meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, 158 House lawmakers sent a letter last Friday to President Obama renewing a call for the United States to ensure the TPP agreement contains strong and enforceable currency rules. Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) and Morgan Griffith (R-Virginia) organized the letter.

In a Wednesday phone call last week, President Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto discussed the TPP negotiations, with some speculating the United States is putting pressure on Mexico to show flexibility on automotive rules of origin. The call came a day after TPP negotiators from the U.S., Mexico, Canada and Japan unsuccessfully concluded talks in San Francisco on this topic.

Ahead of the 25 September meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, House Ways & Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-Michigan) reportedly circulated a Memorandum in which he outlined the status of the TPP negotiations to Democratic members of the House Advisory Group on Negotiations.

TTIP Update

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström met last week and endorsed a plan to advance the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations. The two reportedly committed to exchanging revised goods market access offers at next month’s round of negotiations in Miami, Florida. The United States is also expected to demonstrate flexibility on government procurement by early next year.

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 28 September: General debate of the UNGA begins
  • 30 September: FY 2015 concludes, leading to a possible U.S. federal government shutdown
  • 30 Sept.-1 Oct.: TPP Ministerial Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia
  • 7 October: President Obama hosts German President Joachim Gauck
  • 16 October: President Obama hosts South Korean President Park Geun-hye
  • 19-23 October: 11th Round of TTIP Negotiations to be held in Miami, Florida
  • 25 October: Ukraine local elections
  • [TBD] November: President Obama hosts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
  • 30 Nov.-11 Dec.: U.N. Global Climate Conference in Paris
  • 15-18 December: 10th WTO Ministerial Conference to be held in Nairobi, Kenya