Executive and Legislative Branch Activity
During last week’s Congressional recess, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) slipped over the Turkish border into Syria to meet with the leaders of the Free Syrian Army. Syrian opposition leaders reportedly called on the United States to increase its support by providing heavy weapons, instituting a no-fly zone and employing airstrikes against the Syrian regime and Hezbollah forces that are increasingly active in Syria. Free Syrian Army Gen. Salem Idris said in an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast, “We need American help to have change on the ground; we are now in a very critical situation.”
Also last week, tension ratcheted up over possible Russian arms sales to the Assad regime and the European Union’s (EU) recent decision to lift its embargo on arming the rebels in advance of the early June international peace conference in Geneva. The Syrian opposition still has yet to confirm its attendance.
Last week, the U.S. Government eased its restrictions on the sale of mobile phones and other communication devices and software to Iranian citizens. The U.S. Department of the Treasury justified the action, saying “The people of Iran should be able to communicate and access information without being subject to reprisals by the government.” The Government of Iran and those individuals listed on the Treasury Department’s “specially designated nationals” remain barred from export licenses. This move comes just weeks ahead of the June 14 elections in Iran. This Tuesday, June 4, the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on this issue (See This Week’s Hearings below.)
U.S.-China Heads of State Summit
Later this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet with President Obama in California. The agenda is expected to include North Korea, Iran, Syria, the South China Sea, economic relations and cyber security. Last week, the media widely reported on a U.S. Department of Defense Science Board report that highlighted China’s purported access of data on Pentagon weapons programs and other defense technologies.
On May 23, just before the Congressional recess, President Barack Obama gave a national security policy speech at the National Defense University. The President noted that while the core of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is “on the path to defeat”, there has been an emergence of various al Qaeda affiliates. President Obama further defended as effective his Administration’s use of “lethal, targeted action against al Qaeda and its associated forces, including with remotely piloted aircraft commonly referred to as drones.” He said, “Where foreign governments cannot or will not effectively stop terrorism in their territory, the primary alternative to targeted lethal action would be the use of conventional military options.”
The President affirmed U.S. targeted strikes are legal but cautioned “America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion.” President Obama also shared that his Administration has devised a framework that governs U.S. use of force against terrorists, noting the framework was formally codified in a Presidential Policy Guidance he signed the day before the speech.
Last Thursday, May 30, the State Department released its annual 2012 Country Reports on Terrorism. The Report notes a resurgence of Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism and increased Hezbollah terrorist activity, which includes both reportedly engaged in a “broad range of support to the Assad [Syria] regime.” While the Report also reflects al-Qaeda leadership losses, it notes terrorist threats are increasingly decentralized and geographically dispersed.
Last week, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and the Interagency Trade Policy Staff Committee chaired a public hearing on U.S. negotiating objectives for the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement. USTR and other agencies are engaged in a 90-day consultation process regarding the proposed TTIP agreement. This Thursday, June 6, the Senate Finance Committee will hold its confirmation hearing for Michael Froman to be the U.S. Trade Representative.
Also last week, the World Organization for Animal Health upgraded the United States’ risk status for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) to “negligible.” Montana Senator and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) lauded the news, saying “having the top safety rating will help us to tear down the remaining barriers to American beef exports and ensure that our trading partners abide by science-based standards.”
Vice President Biden wrapped his trip last week to the Western Hemisphere with a final stop in Brazil. He reaffirmed U.S. engagement with its neighbors in the Western hemisphere. The White House also announced President Obama will host Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff for an official State Visit and State Dinner on October 23.
Middle East Peace
Despite Secretary Kerry’s recent visit to Israel to discuss the Middle East Peace process, Israel announced additional settlement construction plans after his departure from the region. The U.S. Government maintains continued construction by Israel in East Jerusalem is counterproductive to the peace talks.
Nominations and Departures
President Obama has announced his intention to nominate the following individuals: James Entwistle to be U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria; Douglas Lute to be the U.S. Permanent Representative on the Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; Victoria Nuland to be Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs; and Kara Stein to be Commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission. This week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold confirmation hearings (See This Week’s Hearings below for specifics.)
Last week, Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers Alan Krueger announced he will return to the private sector. The President has yet to announce his replacement.
This Week’s Hearings:
- Monday, June 3: The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights will hold a hearing on the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square tragedy. The Administration is not scheduled to testify.
- Tuesday, June 4: The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled “Iran Sanctions – Ensuring Enforcement and Assessing Next Steps.” Scheduled to testify from the Administration are: Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and Under Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Eric Hirschhorn.
- Tuesday, June 4: The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights will hold a hearing titled “Continuing Repression by the Vietnamese Government.” The Administration is not scheduled to testify.
- Wednesday, June 5: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Dr. Tulinabo Salama Mushingi to be U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso and Catherine Russell to be Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.
- Wednesday, June 5: The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a hearing titled “A Crisis Mismanaged: Obama’s Failed Syria Policy.” The Administration is not scheduled to testify.
- Wednesday, June 5: The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific will hold a hearing titled “U.S. Relations with Vietnam.” Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Joseph Yun and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Daniel Baer are scheduled to testify.
- Thursday, June 6: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing titled “Labor Issues in Bangladesh”. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake is scheduled to testify.
- Thursday, June 6: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Geoffrey Pyatte to be U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.
- Thursday, June 6: The Senate Finance Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Michael Froman to be the U.S. Trade Representative.