Syrian and Iraqi Crises

Secretary of State John Kerry delivered remarks on U.S. Middle East policy last Wednesday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  The Secretary called on the Russian Government to contribute to the end of the Syrian conflict, including through a political settlement.  He also highlighted areas where the United States, Russia, and others agree, which include the fact that Daesh cannot be victorious and that a secular and united Syria must be preserved.  That same day, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Russia cannot win in Syria, adding it can perhaps prevent Assad from losing.  Earlier in the week, the press reported that Russia has sent a few dozen special operations troops to Syria, redeploying the elite units from Ukraine as the Kremlin shifts its focus to supporting the Syrian regime.

Secretary Kerry then headed to Vienna, Austria, for another round of multilateral talks regarding the Syrian conflict, talks that will for the first time include Iran. At his Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing to be Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, State Department Counselor Tom Shannon testified that Secretary Kerry was convening the meeting in Austria to ascertain Russia’s commitment to fighting ISIL and to finding a political solution to the crisis that does not include Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  This comes after Secretary of Defense Ash Carter signaled last Tuesday that the Administration is considering deploying a small number of special operations forces to Syria and attack helicopters to Iraq to build momentum in the fight against ISIL.

  • On Wednesday, 4 November, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “U.S. Policy after Russia’s Escalation in Syria.”
  • On Wednesday, 4 November, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Challenge to Europe: The Growing Refugee Crisis.”

Ukraine Crisis

Last Monday, the White House and State Department issued statements commending Sunday’s elections in Ukraine and calling for votes on 15 November in Mariupol and in other parts of eastern Ukraine where the elections could not take place.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker travelled to Ukraine early last week to meet with Government officials and to discuss ongoing economic reforms.  She reiterated U.S. support for Ukraine and announced that President Obama, working with Congress, intends to move forward with a third $1 billion loan guarantee for Ukraine in the coming months.  This, she said, fulfills a U.S. commitment to consider providing a third $1 billion loan guarantee in late 2015, if the conditions warrant.

The press reported last week that NATO is considering proposals to deploy 4,000 troops to Eastern European countries bordering Russia.  The proposals are apparently part of an ongoing debate within the Alliance about the long-term response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its support for the separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine.

  • On Tuesday, 3 November, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine and the Propaganda that Threatens Europe.”

NDAA – Avenues Sought

After the presidential veto, Congressional leaders are looking for options to advance theFiscal Year (FY) 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA; H.R. 1735).   Some sources report that Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Arizona) may be considering drafting a revised NDAA that could be attached to an Omnibus appropriations measure that will likely move later next month or early December.  However, some Members are reportedly advocating for a revised NDAA – one that reflects the $5 billion in cuts mandated by the Budget deal – to be passed quickly and not delayed until Congress takes up the expected Omnibus bill.

TPP Update

Last Thursday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sought to explain the delay around publicly releasing the final text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), attributing it to the Canadian election.  Reports around Washington indicate the release of the text is weeks away.  At a Thursday press conference, Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) called on the White House to “stop selling something [TPP deal] that nobody but them knows about.”  Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) praised the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) last Thursday for issuing new guidelines that allow the Committee Members’ personal staff to access the text of the deal.

Ex-Im Bank Re-Authorization Advances

Early last week, the House of Representatives passed a measure to reauthorize the U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank by a vote of 313-118 over the objections of the chamber’s most conservative Republican members.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) blocked the measure from being brought to the floor as a standalone bill last week and instead reiterated the bill will have to be attached to another legislative vehicle expected to advance in the Senate.

Washington Prioritizes TTIP

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman confirmed last Tuesday at an Atlantic Council event that last month’s conclusion of the TPP deal allows USTR to shift its focus to advancing and accelerating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment (TTIP) negotiations with the European Union.  That same day, SPB released a client alert on Washington’s shift to TTIP, available here.

U.S.-India Trade Policy Forum

Last week, the U.S.-India Trade Policy Forum convened in Washington to discuss agriculture, trade in services and goods, promoting investments in manufacturing, and intellectual property.  More details on the Forum can be viewed here.

Other Congressional Hearings This Week

  • On Tuesday, 3 November, the Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Future of Warfare.”
  • On Tuesday, 3 November, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Examining the EU Safe Harbor Decision and Impacts for Transatlantic Data Flows.”
  • On Tuesday, 3 November, the House Judiciary Committee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “International Data Flows: Promoting Digital Trade in the 21st Century.”
  • On Tuesday, 3 November, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Aircraft Carrier – Presence and Surge Limitations. Expanding Power Projection Options.”
  • On Wednesday, 4 November, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Demanding Accountability: Evaluating the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report.”
  • On Wednesday, 4 November, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “U.S. Policy in North Africa.”
  • On Wednesday, 4 November, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Iran Terror Financing and the Tax Code.”
  • On Friday, 6 November, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Deplorable Human Rights Violations in Cuba and Venezuela.”

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 1-7 November: First Lady Michelle Obama travels to Doha, Qatar, and Amman, Jordan
  • 9 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