Iraq/Syria Crisis

Early last week, on Tuesday, President Barack Obama authorized the deployment of approximately 275 U.S. military personnel to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.  On Thursday, President Obama provided the nation with an update on U.S. action in response to the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIL), which includes authorizing up to 300 military advisers to also deploy to Iraq.  The U.S. Government is also sharing intelligence with the Iraqi Government.  President Obama added the United States has positioned additional U.S. military assets in the region that are prepared to “take targeted and precise military action, if and when … the situation on the ground requires it.”   Where some Iraqi forces have departed in Kirkuk, Kurdish security forces have moved in to stabilize the situation and to keep ISIL away from its borders in the northern part of Iraq.

ISIL now control much of Iraq’s ethnically mixed north and Sunni Muslim west, regions that bump up against the Syrian border and have long served as transit routes for guns and fighters to and from both countries. The Obama Administration is reportedly now considering the conflicts in Syria and Iraq as a single challenge, especially with al-Qaeda insurgencies in both countries and the impact to the broader region.  At a National Security Council meeting last week, President Obama and his senior advisers reviewed options, such as strategic airstrikes in Iraq and possibly an initiative to train Syria’s moderate rebel factions. Senate Armed Services Chair Carl Levin (D-Michigan) said Friday that he would oppose any plans for air strikes or further military action in Iraq until several conditions are met, including a unified statement from Shia, Sunni, Kurds and religious minorities in Iraq requesting U.S. military assistance.

Ukraine Crisis

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said last Thursday, “We are in a moment where Russia has a fundamental choice to make. We certainly hope that Russia will take the discussions between President Poroshenko and President Putin seriously and move to a diplomatic resolution.  … But Russia has to understand that if it goes the other way there will have to be additional consequences.”  The next day, the Treasury Department sanctioned seven separatists in Ukraine responsible for or complicit in actions or policies that threaten the security, stability and sovereignty of Ukraine.  Those sanctioned were done so under existing authorities, specifically Executive Order 13660.  Over the weekend, Canada sanctioned 11 individuals and one entity.  EU leaders will meet at the end of this week (27 June), where they may increase pressure on Russia, including the possibility of economic sanctions.

Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists battled in east Ukraine after the separatists rejected a call by Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday to lay down their arms.  Despite the increased tension and ahead of next week’s EU meeting, Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly spoke by phone Thursday about Poroshenko’s proposed cease-fire agreement.  President Putin is also reported to have spoken with German and French leaders amid regional concern over the crisis.  President Obama also spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande last Friday.  Gazprom said Thursday that the termination of a contract with Ukraine’s state-owned gas company Naftogaz, which compensates Kyiv if it needs to use its gas to meet additional demand from Europe, would not affect LNG supplies to Europe.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said last Thursday that the Alliance confirmed a new build-up of Russia’s military at Ukraine’s border.  Ukraine is expected to be a topic of discussion at this week’s NATO Foreign Ministers Meeting.  Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to attend.


The P5+1 Talks with Iran resumed late last week in Vienna and concluded Saturday.   The next round of talks may be held in early July.


President Obama announced last Tuesday that Ahmed Abu Khatallah – a suspect in the September 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya – was in U.S. custody.  The President said Khatallah will “now face the full weight of the American justice system.”  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said last week that Khatallah should be “interrogated extensively” and not given due process rights.


On Saturday, June 14, the White House congratulated Afghanistan for taking a “significant step forward on Afghanistan’s democratic path” as the people went to the polls to elect a new president.


Building on initial steps to support human rights for all Ugandans and after the Government of Uganda’s enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA), the White House announced additional steps last Thursday. For example, the Department of State is implementing measures to prevent entry into the United States by certain Ugandan officials involved in serious human rights abuses, including against Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) individuals.

Vice President’s Trip

Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala last week.  In Brazil early in the week, the Vice President met with President Dilma Rousseff and Vice President Michel Temer, after cheering on the U.S. soccer team in its match against Ghana.  Vice President Biden arrived in Colombia on the evening of 17 June, two days after the 15 June presidential run-off election, in which President Juan Manuel Santos was re-elected. On his first trip to the Dominican Republic, Vice President Biden met with President Danilo Median to discuss energy security, crime-fighting, trade and citizenship rights.

The Vice President’s final stop – which was a last minute addition to his itinerary – was to attend a regional meeting in Guatemala on Friday to discuss the unauthorized migration of unaccompanied children into the United States.  President Obama spoke by phone with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Thursday to discuss a regional strategy to address the influx of unaccompanied children coming from Central America, through Mexico, to the U.S.-Mexico border.  In a statement, the President “reiterated that arriving migrants will not qualify for legalization under proposed immigration reform legislation or deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA).”

New Zealand

President Obama held a bilateral meeting last Friday with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to highlight collaboration on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, climate change, and military-to-military cooperation. The President also consulted with Prime Minister Key on the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, regional maritime security issues, and global security issues.


In a speech last Thursday, Ways and Means Committee Chair Dave Camp (R-Michigan) said that if the Administration wants his support on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), then Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) must be passed and signed into law before the TPP negotiations are completed.  The Chairman also observed that those countries that cannot come up to the high standards in TPP, should instead join after the negotiations have concluded.  Chairman Camp specifically highlighted Japan’s unwillingness to lower agriculture tariffs.  Chief TPP negotiators will meet in Ottawa, Canada, from 3-12 July. The Chairman also held open the possibility that he could agree to moving a Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) bill.

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman met last Wednesday. That same day, the European Commission announced the sixth round of negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment (TTIP) will be held in Brussels 14-18 July.  The Commission announcement notes the following topics will be under consideration:  trade in goods and services, regulatory issues, government procurement, environmental protection and labor rights, energy and raw materials, and small and medium-sized enterprises.

The House Financial Services Committee announced it will hold a 25 June hearing on the reauthorization of the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank, whose charter will expire in three months.  The hearing title indicates that Committee Chair Jeb Hensarling’s (R-Texas) position has not eased.  The Chairman is a vocal opponent of reauthorizing the Bank.  Republicans in the House are not likely to unveil an Ex-Im reauthorization bill until there is a signal from Rep. Hensarling or the Republican leadership to do so.

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 24-25 June:  NATO Foreign Ministers Meeting in Brussels, Belgium
  • 27 June:  EU Leaders Meeting
  • 30 June 2014: President Obama will host Chilean President Michelle Bachelet
  • 5-6 August 2014:  U.S.-African Leaders Summit in Washington