Last Tuesday, Republicans secured control of the U.S. Senate – 52 seats, with some races yet-to-be-determined and could result in further gains.  Squire Patton Boggs produced a 2014 Mid-Term Congressional Elections Analysis, which summarizes some of the implications of a Republican-controlled 114th Congress on the Obama Administration’s international and domestic policies. This Wednesday, 12 November, the 113th Congress reconvenes and the “lame-duck” session commences.

Upcoming Presidential Trip: Asia-Pacific Focus

Over the weekend, President Barack Obama departed Washington for a trip with stops in China, Burma and Australia. In Beijing, the President will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Meeting and APEC CEO Summit on 10-12 November. President Obama will also participate in a state visit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. On 12-14 November, President Obama will attend the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the U.S.-ASEAN Summit; he will also hold a bilateral meeting with Burmese President Thein Sein. President Obama then will travel to Brisbane, Australia, to participate in the G-20 Leaders Summit (15-16 November) and deliver a speech on U.S. leadership in the Asia-Pacific.

Prior to departing Washington last week, Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech that focused on U.S. leadership in the Asia-Pacific region and on the “important” U.S. relationship with China. The Secretary noted the rebalancing objectives for the Administration remain: (1) finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); (2) powering a clean energy revolution; (3) reducing tensions and promoting regional cooperation; and (4) empowering people in the region to “live with dignity, security and opportunity.” With respect to China, the Secretary stressed the bilateral relationship “is the most consequential in the world today … and it will do much to determine the shape of the 21st century.”

Secretary Kerry’s Travel

Secretary Kerry met last Wednesday in Paris with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. In his bilateral meeting with Minister Fabius, the Secretary discussed negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program; Iraq and Syria and combatting ISIL; containing Ebola; and the deteriorating ceasefire situation in Ukraine. The Secretary’s bilateral meeting with Minister Judeh focused on coordinating international efforts against ISIL and the increased tension in Jerusalem, Israel.  Secretary Kerry has now joined President Obama in Beijing.

Ebola Crisis

President Obama continues to meet regularly with his national security and public health teams to discuss the whole-of-government approach to containing the Ebola epidemic at its source in West Africa. The Administration also continues to discuss the monitoring requirements to which individuals arriving from the affected West African countries are subject upon arrival in the United States. There have been no new reported travel-related cases since 23 October.

On Wednesday, the White House submitted a $6.18 billion Ebola-related funding request to Congress for FY 2015. The Administration has requested that returning lawmakers approve more than $4.64 billion for the immediate response to the disease and ask for a $1.54 billion contingency fund to make resources available if necessary. This Wednesday, theSenate Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on the U.S. Government’s response to the Ebola Outbreak, including the Administration’s funding request.  On Thursday, theHouse Foreign Affairs Committee will examine the international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Russia/Ukraine Crisis

The Ukrainian Government cited ceasefire violations after pro-Russian separatists held “elections” on 2 November in eastern Ukraine. While the White House condemned the illegitimate “elections” and called on Russia to adhere to the Minsk ceasefire agreements, Russia acknowledged the “elections” and tested an intercontinental Sineva missile on Wednesday. Ukrainian military intelligence noted an increase of Russian troops in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, prompting the Government to deploy additional troops to its eastern territories. Ukraine also announced it will freeze budget subsidies for eastern territories controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Last Tuesday, the State Department condemned pro-Russian separatist public statements on their intention to expand territory under its control, noting any attempt to push further into Ukraine would be a gross violation of the Minsk agreements signed by Russia, Ukraine and the separatists. Secretary Kerry spoke with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko that day about the fragile ceasefire agreement. On Friday, Ukraine’s military reported Russian tanks and trucks with troops had crossed its eastern border.  NATO confirmed the Alliance has seen an increase in Russian troops and equipment along the border and is looking into the latest border incursion report. On Sunday, National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan issued a statement from the White House, expressing concern over intensified fighting in eastern Ukraine and stressing adherence to the framework agreed upon in Minsk. Given the deteriorating situation, the U.S. Congress is likely watching to see whether the Administration (and EU) is considering the imposition of more sanctions on Russia.

Citing recent “provocative” Russian military activities, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto warned last week that Europe is on the brink of “a new kind of cold war.” NATO also warned of an “unusual level” of Russian military activity in European airspace. Despite 750 U.S. troops in Poland and the Baltic states, NATO Supreme Allied Commander U.S. Gen. Philip Breedlove requested last week that Washington authorize the deployment of additional troops to Eastern Europe. Also last week, Russia said it would not attend the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in Chicago. Over the weekend, U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials reported Russian hackers have infiltrated several critical infrstructure systems in the United States.

Iran

With the 24 November Joint Plan of Action extended deadline rapidly approaching, Congress is closely scrutinizing the P5+1 Talks with Iran. An Iranian Government-approved website noted Obama Administration negotiators have agreed to allow Iran to operate 6,000 centrifuges – up from a proposed ceiling of 4,000 – as part of the negotiations. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) said this week,

“With each passing day, U.S. diplomats are offering more desperate concessions on Iran’s nuclear program – concessions making it inevitable that Iran will get nuclear weapons.”

The Senator urged his colleagues to pass the bipartisan Menendez-Kirk bill (S. 1881) to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

At his press briefing last Wednesday, President Obama noted Iran has seriously come to the table and negotiations have been constructive. As to whether a deal will be concluded by the deadline, that, he said, remains to be seen over the coming weeks. The President reaffirmed his position that he would rather have no deal than a bad deal.  Meanwhile, the press reported last week that President Obama secretly wrote to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last month on a shared interest in fighting ISIL in Iraq and Syria, while also reportedly stressing any cooperation on ISIL is contingent on Iran reaching a comprehensive agreement with the P5+1 by the 24 November deadline.  Secretary Kerry travelled to Oman last week and met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU High Representative Lady Catherine Ashton to discuss the ongoing P5+1 negotiations.

Iraq/Syria Crises

President Obama fielded questions on the fight to combat ISIL at last Wednesday’s press briefing. While the President was reluctant to declare the coalition’s efforts are “winning,” he maintained defeating ISIL in Iraq is a main U.S. priority, with isolating the areas in which ISIL can operate in Syria another. The President called the situation in Syria “complicated” and “messy,” acknowledging difficulty in “trying to get a moderate opposition in Syria that can serve as a partner with us on the ground.” Meanwhile, U.S. airstrikes continue to assist Kurdish forces in retaining control of Kobani, Syria.

Last Friday, the Pentagon confirmed President Obama authorized the deployment to Iraq of up to 1,500 additional U.S. personnel to expand the advise and assist (non-combat) mission and initiate a comprehensive training effort for Iraqi forces. Friday morning, House Armed Services Committee Chair Howard “Buck” McKeon issued a statement in anticipation President Obama would shortly transmit a request for additional funding to combat ISIL in Iraq and Syria. He requested the President reconsider his strategy and clearly explain how any additional funding supports “a new direction.” The President shared with Congressional leaders over lunch that he would submit a request for $5.6 billion for the fight against ISIL.

This Thursday, the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the U.S. strategy and campaign against ISIL. Also Thursday, the House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing to examine terrorist financing and ISIL. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a closed hearing on ISIL this Wednesday.

Burkina Faso

After protesters stormed the parliament and set it ablaze in anger over a possible constitutional change to presidential term-limits, Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré resigned and reportedly departed the country; the military assumed de facto control of the government. The State Department noted the power vacuum and is urging a civilian-led transition that “follows the spirit of the constitution” and moves toward the establishment of presidential elections. The United States has so far held off on making a policy or legal determination on the situation in Burkina Faso.

Trade

While Republicans have promised to halt President Obama’s second-term agenda, the President likely has an ally in Republicans on advancing his trade agenda. House Ways and Means Committee member Rep. Charles Boustany (R-Louisiana) called last week for Congress to approve a Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill in the lame-duck session. He argues the 114th congressional calendar could make it difficult to move such legislation during the first quarter, which could delay the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and TTIP negotiations. Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) – who is likely to become the next Chair of the Committee in January – has indicated renewal of TPA is one of his top priorities. Gaining approval for the long delayed Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada through the Midwest to Texas is another priority.

Regarding TPP, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest indicated last week a “significant breakthrough” is not expected during President Obama’s trip to Asia, confirming U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman shares this view. Meanwhile, the media reports leaders from the TPP countries will meet at the U.S. Embassy on 10 November.  A leaders statement on the status of the TPP negotiations is expected to be issued at the conclusion of the meeting.

Last Monday, Ambassador Froman congratulated the EU’s new Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström for her appointment and EU Parliament confirmation. Both also discussed the importance of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).  Separately, the U.S. Commerce Department is considering how to respond  to 11 EU recommendations to reform the commercial and enforcement aspects of the Safe Harbor framework, particularly the request for definitive boundaries about when the national security exception can be invoked.

The United States failed in its attempt to block the expansion of the Lisbon Agreement (an intellectual property treaty) at a World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) meeting, clearing the way for its 28 signatories in Europe, Africa and the Americas to place further limits on geographical indications (GIs).  The most vocal opponents of the tabled U.S. proposal were EU member states, which have made the protection of GIs a priority in trade negotiations like TTIP.

North Korea

Over the weekend, two U.S. citizens that were detained in North Korea returned to the United States. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reportedly helped secure the relese of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, after a visit to the country.

Nominations

On Friday, President Obama announced his intention to nominate Antony Blinken to be the next Deputy Secretary of State.  Mr. Blinken currently serves as an Assistant to the President and is the Deputy National Security Advisor.

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 10-12 November: APEC Leaders & CEO Meetings in Beijing, China.
  • 12 November: Congress convenes in Washington.
  • 12-13 November: East Asia Summit & U.S.-ASEAN Summit in Burma.
  • 15-16 November: G-20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia.
  • 24 November: P5+1 Talks’ Joint Plan of Action deadline.
  • 11 December: Continuing Resolution funding expires.
  • 16-18 December: U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce & Trade (JCCT) convenes in Chicago, Illinois.
  • 3 January: The 114th Congress convenes in Washington.