On Wednesday (July 16), President Barack Obama outlined current U.S. foreign policy concerns, providing updates on the: (1) election in Afghanistan; (2) P5+1 Talks with Iran and the expiring six-month Interim Agreement; (3) Israel-Palestine/Hamas conflict; and (4) Ukraine crisis. 

Ukraine Crisis

President Obama announced new U.S. sanctions against Russia on July 16, targeting a series of large banks and energy and defense firms. During his announcement, President Obama affirmed solidarity with the EU as they continue to consider additional sanctions. Pro-Russian separatists battled to break through lines of government forces near the border with Russia in eastern Ukraine, and Russia denied shooting down a Ukrainian military jet (SU-25) on Wednesday.  On Thursday, a Malaysian airliner, with 295 civilian passengers, crashed in Ukraine near the Russian border, killing all aboard.

Denouncing this “act of terror,” the Ukraine Government has launched an investigation into the crash. President Obama said the downed airliner was an “outrage of unspeakable proportions” and confirmed that “a surface-to-air missile was fired, and that’s what brought the jet down,” linking the attack directly back to pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.  Over the weekend, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed that an independent, international commission led by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) should be granted swift access to the crash site. 

ISRAEL-HAMAS CONFLICT

After Egypt’s failure to broker a deal between Hamas and Israel to end a more than 10-day exchange of rocket-fire reportedly resulting in more than 100 civilian deaths in Palestine, Israel sent ground troops into Gaza Thursday. According to spokesmen for the Israel Defense Forces, the goal of the offensive is limited to destroying tunnels used by “militants” to infiltrate into Israel. 

IRAN

President Obama highlighted the ongoing P5+1 Talks with Iran on Wednesday, acknowledging the Sunday Agreement deadline and indicating that the negotiations may need to be extended. On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “we have decided – along with the EU, our P5+1 partners, and Iran – to extend the Joint Plan of Action until November 24, exactly one year since we finalized the first step agreement in Geneva.” 

IRAQ/SYRIA CRISES

Last Tuesday, the United States congratulated the Iraqi people on the election of a new parliamentary speaker and two deputies. The State Department thereafter urged Iraq’s leaders to rapidly form a new government. Bashar al-Assad was sworn-in on Wednesday for another term as president, vowing to recover all of Syria from Islamist insurgents.

AFGHANISTAN

President Obama praised the top two presidential candidates in Afghanistan on Wednesday for agreeing to (1) abide by the results of a comprehensive and internationally supervised audit of ballots, and (2) form a unity government.

TRADE

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working with its European Union (EU) counterparts on regulatory issues under the auspices of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), but has made clear that it wants to also undertake regulatory cooperation efforts apart from negotiations. EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht publicly pushed back this week against U.S. demands for complete tariff elimination in TTIP by stressing to the European Parliament that the EU will fight to exclude sensitive agricultural products from complete tariff elimination in the deal. On Tuesday, a majority of the European Parliament voted for Jean-Claude Juncker to be the next European Commission President, someone who has made an EU-U.S. trade deal a key priority.

Testifying before the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee on Wednesday, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Michael Punke said he is hopeful that India and several African countries will drop their objections to implementing the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in advance of a key deadline next week. Even if the protocol is approved next week as an amendment to the WTO Marrakesh Agreement, TFA will only go into effect if two-thirds of WTO members ratify it.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of 31 Governors wrote to House Leadership, urging reauthorization of the U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank. Last week, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) pressed House Majority Leader-Elect Kevin McCarthy (R-California) to provide a timeline for consideration of Ex-Im Bank reauthorization language, noting the 30 September deadline for renewing Ex-Im Bank’s charter.