Executive and Legislative Branch Activity
Last week, the Russian Government acted on Secretary of State John Kerry’s Monday, September 9 suggestion that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avert a U.S. strike if he were to turn over all chemical weapon stockpiles to international control. President Assad said he would accept the Russian four-point plan to turn over his chemical weapon stockpiles to international control, and he praised his Russian ally for the diplomatic solution. On Thursday, September 12, and in furtherance of the Russian plan, President Assad petitioned the United Nations to allow Syria to join the Chemical Weapons Convention.
In light of the Russian plan and facing an uphill battle to garner Congressional support for the Senate authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), President Barack Obama asked Congress to postpone its vote for an AUMF resolution. This, he said, would provide time for the United States to work with the U.N. Security Council on a Security Council resolution requiring that Syria give up its chemical weapons, and ultimately destroy them under international control. After three days of negotiations, Secretary Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced an agreement was reached last Saturday in Geneva on a framework for Syria to destroy all of its chemical weapons. The framework also includes a provision to seek a U.N. Security Council resolution that could authorize sanctions — short of military action — if President Assad fails to comply.
President Obama still addressed the nation on Syria last Tuesday, September 10, describing the civil war conflict and saying the August 21 chemical weapons attack “profoundly” changed the situation. He reiterated the U.S. position that the Assad regime was the perpetrator of the attack. While President Obama acknowledged the United States is “not the world’s policeman,” he also highlighted
“the United States has been the anchor of global security”
for nearly seven decades. The President has ordered the U.S. military to maintain its current posture to keep the pressure on Assad, and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails.
Today, the U.N. inspection team sent to Syria to determine whether chemical weapons were used in the August 21 attack is expected to report to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on its preliminary findings.
On Thursday, September 12, U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Glyn Davies acknowledged recent reports that North Korea restarted its plutonium reactor in the Nyongbyon nuclear facility. He said if the reports are true this would be a “very serious matter” that would be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The nuclear facility was shuttered in 2007 in accordance with a 2005 Six-Party Talks joint statement. The North Korean Government in recent weeks has reportedly indicated a willingness to resume the stalled Six-Party Talks on its nuclear program.
Last week, Iran reported that it has reduced its stocks of 20 percent-enriched uranium by converting it to reactor fuel. An August report by the International Atomic Energy Agency estimates Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium is 185.5 kilograms. Iran’s announcement may be aimed at allaying Western concerns over Iran’s continued production of 20 percent-enriched uranium, which is enriched at a higher level than needed for fuel purposes.
U.N. General Assembly
This Tuesday, the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) convenes in New York City. General UNGA debate (September 24 to 2 October) is expected to focus on the following theme: “Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage.”
On September 24, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to deliver a speech before the General Assembly, followed by two other speeches: (1) to the nuclear disarmament summit meeting at the United Nations; and (2) to foreign ministers of the Nonaligned Movement, of which Iran holds the rotating presidency. President Obama is scheduled to address the Assembly the same day and before President Rouhani.
Vice President’s Travel
This week, Vice President Biden will travel to Mexico to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto to launch the U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue. The Vice President will first stop in South Carolina and Georgia to highlight the importance of infrastructure investments in U.S. ports to growing the U.S. economy.
This Wednesday through Saturday, the chief Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiators are expected to meet in Washington, D.C. Last week in a closed-door meeting, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew reportedly met with House Ways and Means Committee members to discuss the TPP negotiations and other trade matters. While 230 House Members are calling on the Obama Administration to seek currency disciplines in the TPP agreement, Secretary Lew and USTR Froman instead were cited as acknowledging currency manipulation is a problem but did not commit to addressing it in the TPP negotiations.
This Week’s Hearings:
- Tuesday, September 17: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a business meeting to examine (1) S. Res. ___, an original resolution authorizing expenditures by the Committee on Foreign Relations during the 113th Congress; (2) S. 120, the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act; and (3) the nominations of Kenneth Weinstein to be a Member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and Evan Ryan to be Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs.
- Wednesday, September 18: The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on “Benghazi: Where is the State Department Accountability?” An official from the State Department is expected to testify.
- Wednesday, September 18: The House Homeland Security Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee will hold a hearing to “Understand the Threat to the Homeland from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”
- Thursday, September 19: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for: Caroline Kennedy to be the U.S. Ambassador to Japan; Anne Patterson to be Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs; and Gregory Starr to be Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security.
- Thursday, September 19: The House Foreign Affairs Middle East Subcommittee will hold a hearing “Examining the Syrian Refugee Crisis.” Officials from the State Department and USAID are expected to testify.
- Thursday, September 19: The House Foreign Affairs Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee will hold a hearing on “An Unclear Roadmap: Burma’s Fragile Political Reforms and Growing Ethnic Strife.”
- Thursday, September 19: The House Foreign Affairs Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats Subcommittee will mark up H. Res. 284, Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives with respect to promoting energy security of European allies through opening up the Southern Gas Corridor.