President Obama’s Africa Trip
President Barack Obama travelled to Kenya this past weekend, where he met with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. The Governments of the United States and Kenya issued a joint commitment to promote good governance and anti-corruption efforts in Kenya. The White House also released fact sheets on: (1) Advancing Democracy, Human Rights, Gender Equality, Wildlife Conservation, and Governance in Africa; (2) deepening the U.S.-Africa trade relationship; (3) Power Africa; and (4) U.S. Investment in Entrepreneurship. On Sunday afternoon, President Obama travelled to Ethiopia, where he is expected to meet with Ethiopian officials and officials from the African Union.
A largely skeptical panel of Senators questioned Secretary of State John Kerry over the Iran nuclear deal last Thursday, with both sides previewing criticisms likely to be repeated throughout the agreement’s 60-day congressional review period. Secretary Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) that there is no alternative if the United States rejects the deal. SFRC Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) alleged that Secretary Kerry had turned Iran from being a pariah, to putting Congress in that role during the course of making the agreement.
During the hearing, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), a 2016 Republican presidential contender, warned that the next U.S. President could overturn the deal, observing it is not a binding treaty. Should Congress ultimately vote against the deal and should President Obama veto such an act, he will need to secure significant support from Democrats to sustain his veto. Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) appeared to voice wider frustration in Congress that Members had not been more closely consulted during the negotiating process.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and General Philip Breedlove, Commander of Supreme Allied Command and of U.S. European Command, met in Kyiv last week, where they discussed the progress of joint Ukrainian-U.S. military exercises. General Breedlove is also expected to visit the training exercises in Lyiv Oblast.
Separately, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield discussed reforms and personnel changes in prosecution agencies. Assistant Secretary Brownfield also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Mikheil Saakashvili, Governor of Ukraine’s Odessa Oblast, assuring American support. The MOU marks the first agreement between the regional Ukrainian government and the United States. The signing ceremony also formally recognized the official deployment of a new patrol police force in Odessa trained by the California Highway State Patrol.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter met Kurdish leaders during an unannounced visit to the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. Secretary Carter landed early last Friday in Irbil. This visit comes a day after his stop in Baghdad, where Secretary Carter took a firsthand look at joint U.S.-Iraqi army efforts to thwart the advances of ISIL. He also visited Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia last week.
After the 20 July terrorist attack, reportedly by the PKK, in Suruç, Turkey, National Security Council Spokesperson Ned Price expressed U.S. solidarity with the Turkish Government and its people, reaffirming U.S. resolve to work with Turkey and other allies to combat terrorism.
On 22 July, President Obama spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about deepening bilateral cooperation in the fight against ISIL and common efforts to bring security and stability to Iraq and a political settlement to the conflict in Syria. After months of negotiations, Turkish leaders agreed to U.S. requests to use the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey to send fighter jets and armed drones to attack fighters based in Syria and Iraq.
Despite U.S. efforts to conclude a final deal with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries, there are a number of outstanding issues reported to yet be resolved during the 28-31 July Ministerial Meeting in Maui, Hawaii. These issues include: (1) intellectual property (pharmaceuticals); (2) goods market access (dairy, rice, sugar, and apparel and footwear); (3) automotive issues with Japan; (4) rules of origin (textiles and apparel); (5) state-owned enterprises and which entities should be exempt; (6) investment (the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism); (7) labor; (8) non-conforming measures on services and investment; and (9) tobacco.
Last week, U.S. and EU trade officials, along with several members of their respective legislatures, held off-the-record panels and receptions with business leaders to discuss a wide range of topics, including ongoing Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks.
While some Republican lawmakers acknowledged that plans have been delayed for holding formal discussions to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the pending customs and enforcement bill (H.R. 644) due to issues in the informal negotiations, they reiterated their aim wrap up talks before the August recess. Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota), Republican conference chair and one of the seven Senate conferees on the bill, expressed doubts that the House would vote on the motion to go to conference before the recess, delaying action on the customs bill until the fall.
In a 17 July letter, 12 Democratic lawmakers argued for the conferees to remove the climate change language in the House-passed customs bill, calling it misplaced, ambiguous, and serving only to send the wrong message to the world on U.S. climate policy.
Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) alleged to reporters that Congress is treating reauthorization of the lapsed U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank charter like a pawn. Some in the House are saying they would allow movement to renew Ex-Im if the Senate takes up the short-term highway and transit bill. On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest affirmed that the Administration insists the provisions reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank be added to any transportation bill that passes Congress before the end of July.
Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, filed an amendment last week to the Senate highway bill to repeal mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) requirements for beef, pork and chicken – to prevent billions of dollars in retaliatory tariffs by Canada and Mexico on the U.S. economy. Last Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) moved to block any amendments to the transportation bill in a procedure called “filling the amendment tree.”
Majority Leader McConnell has said he will allow two amendment votes — (1) one related to repealing Obamacare, and (2) another related to the Ex-Im Bank. The Majority Leader said on the floor that he is still open to having debate on germane amendments. An aide to Senator McConnell reported that the Senate will likely vote on the Obamacare amendment on Sunday, with a vote on Ex-Im later next week. The Senate Republican Leadership is anticipating a final passage vote on the bill possibly on Thursday.
Trafficking in Persons Report
The State Department is due to release its overdue Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report on Monday, 27 July. On 15 July, President Obama announced his intention to nominate Susan Coppedge to be the next Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, with rank of Ambassador at Large. The Senate has yet to schedule a confirmation hearing for Ms. Coppedge.
U.S. authorities investigating the widespread Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) corruption scandal are now reportedly looking into the role that major financial institutions played in the alleged scheme. The United States has also asked Paraguay to extradite Nicolás Leoz, the former president of South America’s soccer confederation, Conmebol, a suspect in the scandal.
Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:
- 23-28 July: President Obama to travel to Kenya attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit
- TBD August: AGOA Forum in Libreville, Gabon
- 15 September: 70th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) opens in New York City
- 24 September: Pope Francis to address Congress and meet with President Obama
- 28 September: General debate of the UNGA begins
- 30 Nov.-11 Dec.: UN Global Climate Conference in Paris