Most of Washington was focused on last Thursday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, where former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) James Comey testified about circumstances that may have contributed to his termination. President Trump announced on Wednesday that he was nominating Christopher Wray to serve as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).
Both chambers of Congress are in session this week. The Senate will resume debate of S. 722, an Iran sanctions bill, on Monday evening. A final vote on the bill is expected before the 4 July recess.
The White House announced last Friday that President Trump will soon travel to Poland. The White House said the trip “will reaffirm America’s steadfast commitment to one of [its] closest European allies and emphasize the Administration’s priority of strengthening NATO’s collective defense.” Also Friday, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Jeffrey Gerrish to serve as Deputy U.S. Trade Representative for Asia, Europe, the Middle East & Industrial Competitiveness, and Nathan Alexander Sales to serve as Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the State Department, among other nominations.
Qatar – Gulf Dispute Regarding Terrorism Financing
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates severed diplomatic ties with Qatar last week, after accusing the country of supporting terrorism.
At a joint press conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on Friday, President Trump spoke of his recent trip to the Middle East and Europe, where he said the focus of the trip was on strengthening alliances in order to fight terrorism. He said of countering terrorism financing: “I addressed a summit of more than 50 Arab and Muslim leaders, a unique meeting in the history of nations, where key players in the region agreed to stop supporting terrorism, whether it be financial, military or even moral support.” He added:
“The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level. And in the wake of that conference, nations came together and spoke to me about confronting Qatar over its behavior.”
President Trump said that one of his priorities is to get countries to stop facilitating terrorism financing. He said: “For Qatar, we want you back among the unity of responsible nations. We ask Qatar and other nations in the region to do more and do it faster.” President Trump also spoke with President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi of Egypt on Friday; Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday; Amir Sheikh Tameem bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar on Wednesday; and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave brief remarks to the press on Friday regarding the situation in the Middle East. He said:
“We ask that there be no further escalation by the parties in the region. We call on Qatar to be responsive to the concerns of its neighbors. Qatar has a history of supporting groups that have spanned the spectrum of political expression, from activism to violence. The emir of Qatar has made progress in halting financial support and expelling terrorist elements from his country, but he must do more and he must do it more quickly. Others must also continue to eliminate factions of support for violent organizations within their own borders. Again, that was a commitment made by all at the summit. We call on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt to ease the blockade against Qatar.”
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein testified U.S. operations at the Al Udeid Air Base will continue without interruption, despite the diplomatic feud between Qatar and other Arab states. Both officials noted, however, that the Pentagon has backup plans in place, if necessary.
Syria – U.S. Shoots Down Unmanned Aircraft That Fired on Coalition Troops
Officials confirmed that a U.S. aircraft shot down an armed pro-Syrian government unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) last Thursday after it had fired on coalition forces in southern Syria. This incident was the first time that pro-Assad forces in southeastern Syria have fired on U.S.-backed fighters and their coalition advisers.
The pro-regime UAV was shot down after it dropped a weapon near a position occupied by coalition personnel. In a statement, the U.S. Central Command clarified that it was focused on fighting ISIS and not interested in confronting the Assad regime or its allies, but noted that the “coalition will take appropriate measures to protect our forces.”
NATO – President Trump Reaffirms U.S. Commitment to Collective Defense
During a joint press conference with the Romanian president on 9 June, President Trump provided reassurance that the U.S. remains committed to defending other members of NATO. Responding to a question from a reporter, President Trump said, “[y]es, absolutely I’d be committed to Article 5,” but noted that NATO allies should increase their military spending to ensure that NATO remains a “very, very strong force.”
The White House later reaffirmed the commitment in a statement announcing the President Trump’s plans to visit Poland next month. The President drew criticism last month when he failed to mention U.S. commitment to Article 5 during a speech to NATO leaders.
Canada – Boeing Moves Forward with Trade Complaint
U.S. aerospace company, Boeing, is moving ahead with its complaint against Montreal-based Bombardier after a U.S. International Trade Commission preliminary finding that Bombardier’s trade practices are causing injury to Boeing and the U.S. aircraft sector. Boeing has accused the Canadian company of selling its new C-Series aircraft to Delta Airlines below the price of production. Boeing is also arguing that Bombardier benefits from unfair subsidies from the Canadian government.
This case could heighten trade tensions between the U.S. and Canada. After the U.S. initiated the Bombardier investigation last month, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland announced that the government would review military procurement that relates to Boeing. In a defense policy report released last week, the Canadian government deferred its decision to purchase eighteen of Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter jets, stating that it was “continuing to explore” the acquisition of an interim fighter aircraft.
Indonesia – Maritime Security Discussed
Last week, Secretary of Defense James Mattis met with Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Pandjaitan. According to a Pentagon spokesperson, Secretary Mattis and Minister Pandjaitan exchanged views on the regional maritime security environment in Southeast Asia, countering violent extremism, and the threat posed by returning foreign fighters. The two also discussed the importance of supporting Indonesia’s defense modernization efforts through strengthening bilateral training, interoperability, and defense trade.
Congressional Hearings This Week
- On Monday, 12 June, the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “The Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense.”
- On Tuesday, 13 June, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Department of Defense Budget Posture.”
- On Tuesday, 13 June, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Cybersecurity Policy is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “State-Sponsored Cyberspace Threats: Recent Incidents and U.S. Policy Response.”
- On Tuesday, 13 June, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Challenges and Opportunities for the U.S.-Saudi Relationship.”
- On Tuesday, 13 June, the Senate Appropriations State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Review of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Budget for the U.S. Department of State.” Secretary of State Tillerson is expected to testify.
- On Tuesday, 13 June, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Review of the FY 2018 State Department Budget Request.” Secretary Tillerson is expected to testify.
- On Wednesday, 14 June, the House Appropriations State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the Department of State’s budget. Secretary Tillerson is expected to testify.
- On Wednesday, 14 June, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a budget hearing for the State Department’s FY 2018 budget. Secretary Tillerson is expected to testify.
- On Wednesday, 14 June, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Health is scheduled to hold a markup of H.R. 1415, the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act.
- On Wednesday, 14 June, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Health is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Africa’s Current and Potential Famines.”
- On Wednesday, 14 June, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Southeast Europe: Strengthening Democracy and Countering Malign Foreign Influence.”
- On Wednesday, 14 June, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Ideology and Terror: Understanding the Tools, Tactics, and Techniques of Violent Extremism.”
- On Wednesday, 14 June, the Senate Security and Cooperation in Europe Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “The Romanian Anti-Corruption Process: Success and Excesses.”
- On Wednesday, 14 June, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Review of the FY 2018 Budget Request for the U.S. Dept. of Defense.”
- On Thursday, 15 June, the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the Department of Defense’s budget. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford are expected to testify.
- On Thursday, 15 June, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade has scheduled a hearing titled “Foreign Military Sales: Process and Policy.”
- On Thursday, 15 June, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Russia’s Strategic Objectives in the Middle East and North Africa.”
- On Thursday, 15 June, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific is scheduled to hold a markup of H.R. 535, the Taiwan Travel Act; H.R. 2061, the North Korean (DPRK) Human Rights Reauthorization Act of 2017; and H.R. 2397, the DPRK Act of 2017.
- On Thursday, 15 June, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Renewing Assurances: Strengthening U.S.-Taiwan Ties.”
- On Thursday, 15 June, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Data Stored Abroad: Ensuring Lawful Access and Privacy Protection in the Digital Era.”
- On Thursday, 15 June, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Recent Trends in International Antitrust Enforcement.”
Washington will focus on the following upcoming events:
- 12 June: USTR deadline for written comments re: NAFTA
- 18-20 June: SelectUSA Investment Summit in National Harbor, Maryland
- 19 June: President Trump will welcome Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela to the White House
- 27 June: USTR hearing on NAFTA
- Before August: Congress to vote on the raising the debt ceiling