Executive and Legislative Branch Activity
The State Department continues to call for an end to perceived arbitrary arrests in Egypt. Despite reported calls in Egypt by Islamists and the opposition for U.S. Ambassador Ann Patterson to leave Cairo, the State Department maintains its support for the embattled veteran Foreign Service officer. Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns stopped in Egypt early last week to meet with interim government officials.
Last week, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) reportedly threatened to put a hold on the re-nomination of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey. The senator is apparently seeking answers from the chairman on U.S. policy toward Syria. Meanwhile, the media reports the fractured Syrian opposition is losing momentum to Assad forces, noting there is increased fighting among the various rebel groups.
Middle East Peace Talks
Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry, accompanied by U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, travelled to Jordan to discuss the situation in Syria. While in Amman, the secretary participated in the Arab League Peace Initiative Meeting; met with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and King Abdullah II; and separately met with Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat to revive the peace talks with Israel. Secretary Kerry delayed his return to Washington and next travelled to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Also last week, President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to urge him to resume negotiations with the Palestinians “as soon as possible.”
Vice Presidential Trip
On Monday, July 22, Vice President Biden arrives in India. His week-long trip includes a stop in Singapore.
The White House signaled last week that President Obama may scrap planned bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of the September G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, if Edward Snowden is granted asylum by Russia. The United States continues to press for Snowden’s return to face judicial proceedings for leaking top-secret classified information.
On July 19, the House Appropriations Committee marked up its $40.6 billion FY 2014 State-Foreign Operations appropriations bill for the State Department. The House bill will provide approximately $8 billion less in discretionary funding than the administration requested. Significant cuts were made to the economic and development assistance funds, and the bill also denies the administration’s requests for a new fund to address the political and economic circumstances in the Middle East and North Africa. However, the House Appropriations Committee noted that “programs that support global health and humanitarian assistance are prioritized, such as State Department and USAID international HIV/AIDS programs, which are funded at the requested level of $6 billion.” The committee also maintained funding levels for U.S. Embassy security.
In response, the State Department expressed concern over the 41 percent cut to the economic and development assistance account. The agency emphasized such a cut “would dramatically reduce our assistance to countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico, Colombia, South Sudan, Somalia, and Burma. It would also force us to scale back the Feed the Future program, setting back progress to reduce poverty in Africa by improving agricultural productivity.” This Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee will hold a markup of the Senate’s FY 2014 State-Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. The Senate draft bill should be released this week.
On Thursday, July 25, President Obama will host Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang. Topics of discussion are expected to include the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, and Vietnam’s desire to see increased market access for its textiles and apparel. The United States, in turn, seeks to level the playing field in competing with Vietnam’s state-owned enterprises and wants more intellectual property rights protections. The 18th round of TPP negotiations will conclude this Friday in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. After Canada announced it could not host the next full negotiating round, the 19th session is now expected to be held in Brunei. The negotiators also moved up the next round of negotiations to August 2014.
On July 18, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on President Obama’s trade policy agenda. He affirmed the administration’s commitment toward renewing the Generalized System of Preferences, which expires July 31, and the “seamless renewal” of the African Growth & Opportunity Act before it expires in 2015. USTR Froman also testified that lack of funding is hamstringing U.S. negotiators and impacting enforcement activities. Furthermore, USTR Froman issued a statement of disappointment following the suspension of negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland, toward an expanded Information Technology Agreement at the World Trade Organization.
Nominations & Confirmations
Last week, President Obama announced his intention to nominate the following individuals: Nisha Desai Biswal to be Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs; Beth Robinson to be Under Secretary of Energy; Julia Frifield to be Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs; Tim Broas to be U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands; and Adam Scheinman to be the Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation at the State Department. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold confirmation hearings for multiple U.S. Ambassador nominees and also Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.
This Week’s Hearings:
- Tuesday, July 23: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for the following to be U.S. Ambassadors: Joseph Yun (Malaysia); Daniel Clune (Laos); and Morrell John Berry (Australia).
- Tuesday, July 23: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a business meeting to consider S. Res. 156 and the following nominations: Victoria Nuland to be Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs; Douglas Lute to be U.S. Permanent Representative on the Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; and Daniel Baer to be U.S. Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
- Tuesday, July 23: The Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee will hold a markup of the Senate FY 2014 State-Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.
- Tuesday, July 23: The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific will hold a hearing on “The Cyber Security Battleground.”
- Wednesday, July 24: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and the following to be U.S. Ambassadors: James Entwistle (Nigeria); Patricia Haslach (Ethiopia); Stephanie Sanders Sullivan (Republic of the Congo); and Patrick Gaspard (South Africa).
- Wednesday, July 24: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold another hearing on the “Rebalance to Asia III: Protecting the Environment and Ensuring Food and Water Security in East Asia and the Pacific.”
- Wednesday, July 24: The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights will hold a hearing on “Closing Guántanamo: The National Security, Fiscal, and Human Rights Implications.”
- Wednesday, July 24: The House Foreign Affairs Committee will mark up the following bills: H.R. 2449, to authorize the president to extend the term of the Agreement for Cooperation between the United States and the Republic of Korea concerning civil uses of nuclear energy; H.R. 1409, the Export Promotion Reform Act; and H.R. 1926, the State Trade Coordination Act.
- Wednesday, July 24: The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere will hold a hearing to examine the “Challenges to Democracy in the Western Hemisphere.”
- Thursday, July 25: The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the “Emerging Threat of Resource Wars.”