Iran

With the Obama Administration facing months of international negotiations with Tehran for a comprehensive deal on Iran’s nuclear program, it also worked this week to ensure congressional actions do not compromise the diplomatic effort. Bipartisan lawmakers still believe Congress should have an up-or-down vote on any final accord reached with Iran. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a business meeting to discuss S. 615, The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, on 14 April.

Russia/Ukraine Crisis

On 14 April, the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) is scheduled to hold a hearing to examine Russia’s propaganda machine. The next day, the Committee’s Subcommittee on Global Human Rights will hold a markup of H. Res. 50, which calls for Russia to release Ukrainian fighter pilot Nadiya Savchenko.

In Kyiv last week, Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) met with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk. At a Thursday press briefing, the Senator said that he would personally fight to secure military assistance for Ukraine. The Senator added:

“economic sanctions will stay unless Russia pulls back and respects the sovereign borders of Ukraine. Anything short of that will not be tolerated. We have to remember that sanctions have been imposed not only in response to the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, but after the annexation of Crimea.”

Yemen

On 14 April, the HFAC Subcommittee on the Middle East is scheduled to hold a hearing on the crisis in Yemen and the Iranian-backed Houthis.

Trade Updates

Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said last Thursday the Administration is anxiously waiting to examine the proposed bill to renew Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) upon its expected release this week. Later in the day, aides to both Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) emphasized that negotiations were ongoing and a deal had not yet been reached. While many speculated the bill would be introduced on Monday, sources are now indicating the bill may be released “later” this week. A Committee markup is tentatively slated for 21 April. Meanwhile, sources are reporting the House will not introduce a TPA bill until after the Senate markup to reflect any changes to the introduced Senate bill and to streamline consideration of the measure in the House. Sources also report the Senate TPA bill may include Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) renewal, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) renewal, and customs reauthorization.

The rule of origin for autos is emerging as a challenge for concluding negotiations in the parallel U.S.-Japan talks; and for the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. A U.S. trade official reportedly said intellectual property (IP) rules and outstanding issues with Canada and Malaysia remain challenges for concluding the TPP deal. The State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) chapter is reportedly largely complete, with parties still negotiating the annex that will include specific SOEs that will be exempted from the general disciplines. TPP negotiators are slated to meet 23-26 April in a location yet to be determined in the United States.

Last week, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced the ninth round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will take place in New York City on 20-24 April.

Ex-Im Bank

On 15 April, the House Financial Services Monetary Policy and Trade Subcommittee and the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee will hold a joint hearing on the U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank.  The Ex-Im Bank’s charter is up for renewal and expires on 30 June.

Oil Exports

On 14 April, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Trade will hold a hearing to examine whether the U.S. ban on exporting oil is helpful or harmful.

U.S.-CARICOM Summit

Last Thursday in Jamaica, President Barack Obama met with Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders to reaffirm the U.S. partnership with Caribbean countries to advance economic development, security, and good governance. The White House released a fact sheet on deepening energy cooperation.

Summit of the Americas/Cuba

President Obama attended the biannual Summit of the Americas in Panama last Friday. The Presidents of the United States and Cuba were both be in attendance for the first time and met Saturday on the margins of the Summit. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez held talks at on Thursday night in Panama. One rapprochement topic of discussion is whether the Obama Administration will remove Cuba from a U.S. list of countries that it says sponsor terrorism.

Syria/Iraq Crises

In advance of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s visit to Washington this week, Vice President Joe Biden said last Thursday that ISIL’s advancement in Iraq has been halted. He also said the various political divisions of Iraq unified to combat ISIL.

123 Agreement

Last Friday, President Barack Obama approved the renewal of a so-called 123 agreement with China, which would allow the U.S. to continue to export civilian nuclear equipment and products to that country. Unless Congress offers a joint resolution disapproving the agreement, the decision will go into affect 90 days after it is published in the Federal Register. The existing agreement with China is set to expire on 30 December.

Ebola

Last Wednesday, President Obama met with his international health and national security teams to discuss what more can be done to bring the number of Ebola cases in West Africa to zero. The President’s advisors updated him on the situation in the region and briefed him on measures currently underway to end the epidemic in Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Nominations

Last week, President Obama announced his intention to nominate the following individuals: William Heidt to be U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia; David Robinson to be Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations and Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization; and Gabriel Camarillo to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

Congressional Retirement

Last week, Representative Lois Capps (D-California) announced she will retire when her term ends in 2016. She currently serves on the House Energy & Commerce Committee. Her district remains likely to favor a Democrat again in 2016.

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 14 April: President Obama to host Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi
  • 17 April: President Obama to host Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi
  • 17-19 April: 2015 Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and the IMF in Washington
  • 20-24 April: TTIP negotiations in New York, New York
  • 7-8 June: G-7 Summit in Schloss Elmau, Germany
  • 30 June: U.S. Export-Import Bank charter expires
  • 15 September: 70th Session of the U.N. 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