Executive and Legislative Branch Activity
Last week, the United Nations confirmed nearly 93,000 deaths in Syria since the start of hostilities there. On Tuesday, June 18, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission will hold a briefing on the human rights and internally displaced persons situation in Syria. Last week, the Syrian opposition continued losing ground to the Syrian regime and its Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian allies. The Syrian regime and its allies are reportedly preparing for a major offensive on rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo.
Last Thursday, June 13, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes announced “[f]ollowing a deliberative review, our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year.” He further stated, “…the use of chemical weapons violates international norms and crosses clear red lines that have existed within the international community for decades.” That same day, the U.S. media reported on a U.S. military proposal that would establish a limited buffer zone that could stretch up to 25 miles into Syria from Jordan. Proponents of the proposal argue a U.N. Security Council resolution establishing a no-fly zone is not necessary, contending the United States would not regularly enter Syrian airspace and would not hold Syrian territory. A Russian decision to provide its advanced, long-range S-300 air defense weapons to the Syrian regime would make a limited buffer zone more risky to U.S. pilots. The White House is reported to still be considering proposals to arm the rebels.
Last Friday, June 14, Iranians went to the polls to elect a new president. Leading up to the election, the Iranian government imposed restrictions on media coverage by foreign news organizations. The next day, Hassan Rohani was declared the winner of the election, securing more than 50 percent of the votes. He is the moderate candidate that is backed by the reformists. Tomorrow, Tuesday, June 18, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a hearing on the elections (see This Week’s Hearings below).
Last Thursday, June 13, after two weeks of anti-government protests in Turkey, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with members of the Taksim Solidarity group, the main group opposed to the redevelopment of Gezi Park in Istanbul. The meeting came on the heels of the widely-covered forcible clearance of Taksim Square by security forces. After the meeting, the Prime Minister said he will wait for the pending court case decision on the construction plans for Gezi Park and agreed to put the matter to a referendum in Istanbul. The State Department welcomed the dialogue. Last Saturday, June 15, security forces continued to use tear gas and water cannons to clear the remaining protesters from Taksim Square.
Last week’s anticipated talks between South Korea and North Korea failed to materialize after North Korea backed out, citing as disruptive South Korea’s decision to change the head of its delegation. The United States continues to maintain North Korea must take clear actions to meet its international obligations, including abiding by the 2005 joint statement of the Six-Party Talks. On Wednesday, June 19, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies will host a trilateral meeting with Japan and South Korea in Washington to discuss North Korea.
Last week, House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) said renewal of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program will likely be delayed. The program expires July 31, and Chairman Nunes cited the tight House schedule and House-Senate discussion as reasons for the delay.
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and World Trade Organization Ambassador Michael Punke acknowledged last week that the recent revelations of extensive U.S. Government surveillance of phone and internet records could hamper U.S. negotiators’ abilities to secure provisions that reduce barriers to cross-border data flows in trade deals. These negotiations include the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the forthcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Trade in International Services Agreement. A senior European Commission official warned U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter that the U.S. data surveillance program known as PRISM may trigger updates to the existing Safe Harbor agreement before it is considered in the upcoming TTIP negotiations. The Safe Harbor agreement provides a framework by which some American companies can transfer personal information about European Union (EU) citizens back to the United States. Meanwhile, the EU continues to move forward with developing a new Data Protection Regulation, which may be finalized in 2014. It is expected that the Safe Harbor agreement will have to be modified to conform to any changes stemming from the updated Data Protection Regulation.
Last Friday, June 14, the EU Trade Ministers resumed discussions to find a compromise on the mandate for trade negotiations with the United States. France’s receptiveness to finding a compromise on how negotiations should handle audiovisual services allowed for a broad mandate to be reached later that day. This week, TTIP will be formally launched at the G-8 Summit.
Today, President Obama and the First Lady are traveling to the United Kingdom and Germany. The President is expected to reinforce the transatlantic ties and discuss shared security challenges and the global economy. President Obama will first stop in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to attend the G-8 Summit. After, he will travel to Germany, where he is expected to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and address the German people at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
Departures and Nominations
Last week, President Barack Obama announced his intention to nominate Daniel Baer to be U.S. Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the following to be U.S. Ambassadors: Stephanie Sanders Sullivan (Republic of the Congo); Joseph Yun (Malaysia); Liliana Ayalde (Brazil); James Costos (Spain); John Emerson (Germany); Rufus Gifford (Denmark); Ken Hackett (Holy See); and Patricia Marie Haslach (Ethiopia). After Michael Morell retired last Thursday, June 13, as the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), President Obama appointed him to be a member of his Intelligence Advisory Board. The President also named Avril Haines to succeed Mr. Morel at the CIA. This week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold two confirmation hearings (see This Week’s Hearings below).
This Week’s Hearings:
- Tuesday, June 18: The Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs will hold a hearing on “Examining Prospects for Democratic Reform and Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe.”
- Tuesday, June 18: The Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere and Global Narcotics Affairs will hold a hearing on “Security Cooperation in Mexico: Examining the Next Steps in the U.S.-Mexico Security Relationship.”
- Tuesday, June 18: The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a hearing on “Elections in Iran: The Regime Cementing its Control.”
- Wednesday, June 19: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Mr. Geoffrey Pyatte to be U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and Dr. Tulinabo Salama Mushingi to be U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso.
- Wednesday, June 19: The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere will hold a hearing on “Regional Security Cooperation: An Examination of the Central American Regional Security Initiative and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative.”
- Wednesday, June 19: The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission will hold a hearing on the “Human Rights Situation in Sudan.”
- Thursday, June 20: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Mr. Daniel Russel to be Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.