State Department’s FY 2016 Budget

Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to testify this week before Congress on the Department’s FY 2016 Budget request and U.S. interests abroad.  The hearings will be held:

  • On Tuesday, 24 February before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee;
  • On Wednesday, 25 February before the House Foreign Affairs Committee; and
  • On Wednesday, 25 February before the House Appropriations State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee.

Russia/Ukraine Crisis

The Obama Administration and Congress continue to monitor closely the situation on the ground in eastern Ukraine, the implementation of the latest ceasefire agreement, and adherence by all parties to the three Minsk agreements. Last Tuesday and again on Friday, Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko about the situation in and around the town of Debaltseve. Both discussed reported ceasefire violations, with Vice President Biden “strongly” condemning Russia and the separatists for blocking access to Debaltseve by Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitors. The Vice President also warned of additional “costs,” if Russia continues to violate the Minsk agreements.  A bipartisan group of Senators sent a letter last Friday to Secretary Kerry, calling for new sanctions to be imposed against Russia and for lethal assistance to be provided to Ukraine. Meanwhile, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum on Thursday authorizing the Secretary of State to prepare and submit to Congress reports and strategies mandated in the Ukraine Freedom Support Act (P.L. 113-272).

On Saturday, Secretary Kerry met with United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. Both discussed the situation in Ukraine, with Secretary Kerry saying Russia and the separatists are selectively complying the Minsk agreements and warning there will be further consequences. While in London, Secretary Kerry also issued a statement marking the one year anniversary of the Maidan protests in Ukraine.

  • This Wednesday, 25 February, the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing to examine how the Pentagon is responding to emerging security challenges in Europe. NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove is scheduled to testify.

Syria/Iraq Crises

Last week, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) travelled to Turkey, Iraq and Kuwait to assess the International Coalition’s efforts against ISIL. Meanwhile, a U.S. official outlined plans last Thursday to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIL forces before Ramadan, raising concerns in Washington that announcing the plan is counterintuitive and allows ISIL to prepare for the offensive.

  • On Thursday, 26 February, the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the President’s proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIL.


On Sunday, Secretary Kerry travelled to Geneva, Switzerland, where he met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif as part of the ongoing P5+1 Talks with Iran over its nuclear program. The discussions will resume today, before Secretary Kerry returns to Washington. Negotiators are trying to reach a political agreement before the 24 March deadline.

  • On Thursday, 26 February, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittees on the Middle East and Human Rights will hold a joint hearing titled, “The Shame of Iranian Human Rights.”


This Friday, President Obama will host Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at the White House. Both are expected to discuss the ongoing Ebola response, the region’s economic recovery plan, and other bilateral and regional matters.

The State Department confirmed last Thursday that the United States is providing assistance to Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria in response to Boko Haram’s continued attacks. Beyond $24.7 million in humanitarian support to aid refugees and internally displaced persons, the United States is also providing support to the multinational joint task force.

In response to Libya and Egypt’s request that the United Nations lift an arms embargo in order to combat ISIL and other militant groups in Libya, the State Department confirmed last week the U.N. Security Council is reviewing a proposed resolution on this matter.

Trade Developments

Speculation is high that Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) may release a new Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill this week. Last week, House Ways & Means Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) said there remains some debate over a procedural disapproval resolution provision.

A congressional delegation led last week by Rep. Paul Ryan stressed the importance of a high-standard Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, while stopping in Singapore, Malaysia and Japan. TPP countries announced they will delay by one month the next TPP ministerial-level meeting, which will now be held in mid-April (location to-be-determined). Some speculate the delay provides Congress with additional time to pass a TPA bill. In the interim, a working group-level round of TPP negotiations is set to be held in Hawaii on 9-15 March.

Last week, reports emerged that the House Ways & Means and Senate Finance Committees are close to completing a draft bill that would renew the African Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA) before it expires in September. Two notable challenges apparently remain: (1) how long the trade beneficiary program should be renewed for, and (2) how it should be funded. Complicating the AGOA discussion is the fact that the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) remains an expired program, with concerns raised about costs associated with the overlapping tariff lines.

European Commissioner for Agriculture & Rural Development Phil Hogan indicated last Wednesday that the United States will need to put forward a second tariff offer in the ongoing Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) discussion over market access before the EU will do so.

Trade-related hearings this week include:

  • On Thursday, 26 February, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing titled, “Congress and U.S. Tariff Policy.”


This Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled, “The President’s New Cuba Policy and U.S. National Security.”

Countering Violent Terrorism Summit

Last week, the White House convened a three-day Summit to bring together local, federal and international leaders to discuss steps the United States and its partners can take to counter extremist ideologies. On Wednesday, the White House released a fact sheet on the Summit. In advance of the Summit, last Monday, President Obama spoke with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, offering condolences for the deaths of two Danish citizens in the 14 February terrorist attacks in Copenhagen. Denmark, was among 60 countries, participating in the Summit. Last Wednesday, the State Department announced the appointment of Rashad Hussain to serve as the new U.S. Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications.

Economic Report Released

Last Thursday, 19 February, the White House released the President’s annual Economic Report. The 2015 Report focuses on the Administration’s domestic and international economic policies.

Air Quality Abroad

On 18 February, the State Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a new air quality partnership to provide U.S. citizens with better information on outside air pollution at select U.S. facilities abroad.

Upcoming Official Travel

Last week, the White House announced Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden will travel the first week of March – when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address a joint session of Congress – to Uruguay and Guatemala.

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 27 February: President Obama to host Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
  • 3 March: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress
  • 19 March: President Obama to host the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall
  • 24 March: Framework deal with Iran due
  • 7-8 June: G-7 Summit in Schloss Elmau, Germany
  • 15 September: 70th Session of the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) opens in New York City
  • 24 September: Pope Francis to address Congress
  • 28 September: General debate of the UNGA begins