Russia/Ukraine Crisis

Despite previous failed attempts to revive the Minsk ceasefire agreement, last week Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko announced the Government would observe a “day of silence” on Tuesday and that heavy weapons would be drawn down from the frontlines if the pro-Russian separatists maintained the ceasefire. Last Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden spoke with President Poroshenko, welcoming the formation of a new government in Ukraine. From Basel, Switzerland, on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry pointedly addressed Russian troop casualties inside Ukraine.

While expressing caution on new sanctions against Iran, incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) said last week that “there’s no question in my mind that we need to continue to ratchet up the pressure” on Russia through sanctions and other means. The Senator also favors providing “actionable intelligence” to the Ukrainian government as well as “lethal support.”

Iraq/Syria Crises

Last Friday, President Obama and Vice President Biden met with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan to consult on regional issues, including efforts to counter ISIL and find a political solution in Syria, provide humanitarian assistance to refugees from the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, and take steps to calm tensions in Jerusalem. While Secretary Kerry did not publicly confirm Iran’s airstrikes last week in Iraq, and Iran denied the action, some U.S. officials tacitly acknowledged the airstrikes against ISIL.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Kerry will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Obama Administration’s policy against the Islamic State and congressional authorization of the use of military force. While President Obama has said that he would “welcome” congressional approval, the Administration has drawn criticism from Republicans for not sending Congress a military authorization to consider.  That same day, there will also be a closed briefing for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as a Subcomittee hearing focused the refugee situation stemming from ISIL.

Ebola Crisis

President Obama praised the National Institute of Health for its efforts in stemming the Ebola outbreak last week, while the White House released a fact sheet on U.S. efforts. At a Wednesday Defense Department briefing on Ebola, AFRICOM Commander Gen. David Rodriguez said that the U.S. mission will likely conclude mid-summer next year, rather than the initial one-year deployment expectation.  This Thursday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is expected to testify (via Skype) before the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs Subcommittee.

Africa

Last Tuesday, National Security Council (NSC) Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan “strongly” condemned attacks on civilians in Wajir and Mandera counties in Kenya and other recent attacks by the terrorist group al-Shabaab. Spokesperson Meehan also expressed deep concern over continued reports of human rights abuses in The Gambia.  On Friday, the International Criminal Court in The Hague withdrew all “crimes against humanity” charges against Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, saying it didn’t have enough evidence to proceed.

Trade

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told the New Democrats Coalition – a group of House Democrats generally supportive of trade deals – last week that he expects the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations to be concluded early next year, and he expressed a desire for Congress to pass a completed deal by the end of 2015. He also emphasized that the 114th Congress will need to pass Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation prior to considering a final TPP deal, though he did not provide a timeline. An informal round of TPP negotiations will commence in Washington this week, discussing state-owned enterprises; market access for goods; rules of origin; legal and institutional issues; intellectual property; and investment. With Japan’s impending elections, many expect discussions will likely focus on procedural issues such as how to advance the negotiations in 2015.

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 11 December: Continuing Resolution funding expires.
  • 7-12 December: TPP negotiators meet in Washington.
  • 16-18 December: U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce & Trade (JCCT) convenes in Chicago, Illinois.
  • 3 January: The 114th Congress convenes in Washington.