Upcoming Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Summit
U.S. National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen reported last week that 20,000 foreign fighters are joining ISIL and other extremist organizations. Secretary of State John Kerry also observed that thousands of extremist fighters have been killed in Syria and in Iraq, including many foreign fighters.
This week, the White House will host the first-ever CVE Summit over the course of multiple days to highlight efforts at home and abroad aimed at stopping extremists from radicalizing, recruiting, or inspiring individuals. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will participate in the Summit. A Thursday ministerial-level meeting with foreign government officials is expected to result in a communiqué that will outline commitments to be evaluated later this year at the annual U.N. General Assembly.
Defense Secretary Confirmed
With multiple security challenges around the world, the Senate voted last Thursday to confirm Ashton Carter as the next Secretary of Defense by a vote of 93 to 5. Secretary Carter is expected to meet this afternoon with President Obama, after being sworn-in by Vice President Biden.
French President François Hollande and President Putin announced another ceasefire agreement last Thursday for eastern Ukraine. While White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest welcomed the agreement reached in Minsk, he added immediate and concrete step must be taken – such as the withdrawal of heavy weapons, Russia ending support for the separatists and withdrawing its soldiers and military equipment from eastern Ukraine, and the restoration of Ukrainian control over its border with Russia. Press Secretary Earnest also expressed concern over the escalation of fighting in eastern Ukraine as inconsistent with the spirit of the accord. The G-7 issued a statement on Ukraine last Friday, warning it “stands ready to adopt appropriate measures against those who violate the [new ceasefire agreement] and therefore intensify the costs for them, in particular against those who do not observe the agreed comprehensive ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons.”
Meanwhile, the ceasefire went into effect on Saturday at midnight in Ukraine. Yesterday, the State Department issued a statement warning of ceasefire violations – citing the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission – and expressing particular concern over the deteriorating situation in and around Debaltseve in eastern Ukraine. The State Department called on Russia and the separatists to halt all attacks and warned the Department is “closely monitoring reports of a new column of Russian military equipment moving toward Debaltseve.”
To protect its personnel, the U.S. Government suspended operations last week at its embassy in Sana’a, Yemen. After shuttering the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday, the Houthis – Iran-linked Shi’ite fighters who seized control of Sana’a – reportedly confiscated embassy vehicles at the airport as the U.S. Ambassador departed Yemen. France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Saudi Arabia and other countries also closed their embassies last week. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-California) issued a statement last week denouncing the Houthi coup and warning of Iran’s use of armed proxy forces to spread its influence throughout the Middle East.
Last Wednesday, President Obama formally requested Congress approve a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) as part of the campaign to counter ISIL. He transmitted a draft proposal that would expire after three years, and would allow for the use of U.S. ground forces under limited circumstances, including rescue and Special Forces operations. The President’s new AUMF does not address the 2001 AUMF, which is specific to Iraq. He instead said he remains committed to working with Congress to refine and repeal the 2001 AUMF.
After ISIL claimed a U.S. hostage had died, the White House confirmed last Tuesday the death of U.S. aid worker Kayla Mueller based on claims by and photos sent from ISIL. Also Tuesday, the State Department refuted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s claims he is receiving intelligence on the International Coalition’s airstrikes inside Syria against ISIL. The United Arab Emirates rejoined the Coalition’s airstrikes last week, a move the State Department welcomed.
On Sunday, 15 February, the White House issued a statement condemning the murder of twenty-one Egyptian citizens in Libya by ISIL-affiliated terrorist and calling on all Libyans “to unite in the face of this shared and growing threat.”
Last week, the State Department expressed disappointment over the Nigerian government’s decision to postpone the 14 February parliamentary and presidential elections, observing concern over perceived “political interference” with the Independent National Electoral Commission. With Boko Haram continuing its attacks in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and now Chad, on 9 February, the Nigerien parliament unanimously approved the deployment of troops to northern Nigeria as part of a regional offensive against Boko Haram.
President Obama addressed the nation last Wednesday on the progress toward halting Ebola. While he announced U.S. troops would return from their deployment to West Africa by the end of April, President Obama warned the crisis is not yet over. The White House also released a fact sheet on the U.S. efforts to contain Ebola domestically and abroad.
Army Gen. John Campbell spoke with top White House officials last Thursday about keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan longer than the originally proposed 2015 U.S. troop drawdown. Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee agreed at a hearing where Gen. Campbell testified Thursday the situation in Afghanistan warrants re-evaluating the pace of the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
While Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has yet to unveil his new Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill, it is likely the measure will be introduced after Congress returns from this week’s recess break
Last week, a bipartisan group of House and Senate Members introduced similar currency bills that are limited to pressuring the Commerce Department to investigate undervalued currency as a countervailable subsidy. On Thursday, a House Ways and Means blog suggested caution in advancing congressional measures that address currency manipulation, saying the new TPA bill could instead prioritize this concern as a primary negotiating objective for all free trade agreements.
After the 8th round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, EU Chief Negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero said two more comprehensive rounds of negotiations will be held between now and “the summer break.” The next formal round is expected to be held in the United States.
The Presidential Task Force released its implementation plan last week for the National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking. Notably, the Administration is using trade agreements and trade policy to press for groundbreaking commitments on wildlife trafficking and wildlife conservation in TTIP and in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) negotiations.
On Tuesday, 10 February, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Illinois) introduced a bill (H.R. 825) along with Rep. Juan Vargas (D-California) that would instruct the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to use free trade negotiations – including with the EU – to discourage potential trade partners from imposing boycotts and other sanctions on Israel.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced last week that the United States filed a case before the World Trade Organization concerning a Chinese export subsidy program.
Keystone XL Pipeline
The House voted last Wednesday and approved the Senate-passed Keystone XL pipeline bill (S. 1) largely on a party-line vote (270-152), with 29 Democrats joining all but one Republican. Republicans do not appear to have the two-thirds majority in either chamber to override a presidential veto. Last Thursday, 24 Republican Governors sent a letter to President Obama advocating for approval of the pipeline.
Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:
- 17-19 February: White House to host Summit on Countering Violent Extremism
- 3 March: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress
- 24 March: Framework deal with Iran due
- 7-8 June: G-7 Summit in Schloss Elmau, Germany
- 24 September: Pope Francis to address Congress