Executive and Legislative Branch Activity
Austria said it is pulling its troops out of the United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping mission to Syria after increased battles between Syrian troops and rebels in the Golan Heights. The White House condemned the Assad regime’s assault on the city of Qusayr, noting the attack has killed “untold numbers of civilians.” The White House further noted that “[i]t is clear that the regime could not contest the opposition’s control of Qusayr on its own, and is depending upon Hezbollah and Iran to do its work for it in Qusayr.” Meanwhile, House Foreign Affairs Committee leaders Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) dispatched committee staff to meet with the Syrian opposition leaders in Turkey near the Syrian border. Plans for an international peace conference on Syria have failed to advance.
Campaigning by the eight approved presidential candidates continues in Iran for the upcoming election this Friday, June 14. Candidate Hassan Rohani is the only cleric in the race who also served as Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator during former President Mohammad Khatami’s Administration, and is emerging as having possibly the best chance of winning consensus support from Iran’s reformists. Rohani has reportedly criticized the Iranian ruling system for failing to engage the United States in direct talks. Other presidential candidates include: Saeed Jalil (ally to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, current nuclear negotiator and widely considered the race front-runner), Ali Akbar Velayati (former Foreign Minister and Senior Foreign Policy Adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei), Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf (Tehran Mayor), Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel (Parliament member), Mohsen Rezaei (Expediency Council Secretary), Mohammad Gharazi (former Telecommunications Minister), and Mohammad Reza Aref (reformist candidate).
Last Friday, Senate Foreign Relations Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs Subcommittee Chair Bob Casey (D-PA) said two of Iran’s leading presidential candidates – Saeed Jalil and Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf – should be investigated for human rights violations, suggesting they should in turn be sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department. Sen. Casey said “sanctioning candidates for Iran’s highest political office would signal to the Iranian regime that the United States will not cooperate with human rights violators,” and would further “demonstrate our resolve to stand with the Iranian people.”
Last Wednesday, the State Department announced “China, India, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Taiwan” again qualified for an exception to sanctions outlined in Section 1245 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012 for significant reductions in the volume of their crude oil purchases from Iran. These waivers are renewable again in 180 days. Last Monday, President Obama issued an Executive Order that authorizes “the imposition of sanctions on foreign financial institutions that knowingly conduct or facilitate significant transactions for the purchase or sale of the Iranian rial, or that maintain significant accounts outside Iran denominated in the Iranian rial.”
Thousands of protesters rallied in Istanbul’s Taksim Square and other cities last week after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced intentions to go forward with urban development plans for Gezi Park in Istanbul. Four people, including a police officer, are reported to have died, and thousands have reportedly been injured and arrested. The demonstrators have accused the Government of becoming increasingly authoritarian and have called for the three-term Prime Minister to quit. The U.S. State Department urged Turkish officials to refrain from “unhelpful rhetoric and unhelpful comments that will not help calm the actions that are happening in Turkey.”
An Egyptian court last week issued verdicts against representatives of several NGOs, including U.S. individuals who were convicted in absentia. The White House expressed “deep concern” that the trial was “politically-motivated” and further called into question “the Government of Egypt’s commitments to support the important role of civil society.”
Last Thursday the Senate Finance Committee held a confirmation hearing to consider the nomination of Michael Froman to be U.S. Trade Representative. Mr. Froman responded to Congressional concerns that the United States is disadvantaged in a global trading system that does not support a level playing field. Senators noted in particular that more must be done to protect U.S. intellectual property rights and prevent the theft of trade secrets via cyber theft. The confirmation hearing also touched on the Administration’s “ambitious” trade agenda, with frequent mentions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trans-Atlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) and multilateral services agreement negotiations in Geneva. Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) again reaffirmed his intention to introduce a bipartisan bill on Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) later this month. The Chairman also sought and received confirmation from Mr. Froman that President Obama is now formally requesting renewal of TPA. Republican Committee Members welcomed this step. Mr. Froman is expected to be confirmed quickly.
Formal TTIP negotiations between the United States and the European Union are slated to begin in July after the close of the 90-day consultation period. Moreover, Congress is exploring renewal of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program which is set to expire July 31. If confirmed, Mr. Froman committed to working closely with Congress to reform the GSP program.
Departures & Nominations
Last Wednesday, President Obama announced that Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., will replace Tom Donilon as National Security Advisor after Mr. Donilon returns to the private sector in early July. Samantha Powers will succeed Ms. Rice at the U.N. Also last week, President Obama announced his intention to nominate Robert Wolf to the President’s Export Council.
This Week’s Hearings:
- Wednesday, June 12: The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing titled “Cybersecurity: Preparing for and responding to enduring threats.”
- Wednesday, June 12: The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled “Modernizing U.S. International Food Aid.”
- Wednesday, June 12: The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a hearing on “American NGOs under attack in Morsi’s Egypt.”
- Wednesday, June 12: The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade will hold a hearing on the “U.S.-Brazil trade and investment relationship.”
- Wednesday, June 12: The House Appropriations Committee will hold its mark-up of the FY 2014 Defense Appropriations bill.
- Thursday, June 13: The Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittees on Human Rights and European Affairs will hold a joint hearing on “Russia’s deteriorating human rights situation.”
- Thursday, June 13: The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary and Trade will hold a hearing on “Assessing reform at the Export-Import Bank.”
- Thursday, June 13: The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance will hold a hearing on “the impact of international regulatory standards on the competitiveness of U.S. insurers.”
- Thursday, June 13: The House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing on “Tax Reform: Tax havens, base erosion and profit-shifting.”
- Thursday, June 13: The House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security will hold a hearing on “Examining the Government’s record on implementing the International Religious Freedom Act.”