Iran Nuclear Deal Enters into Force – Congress Scrutinizes Iran’s ICBM Test

On Sunday, President Barack Obama issued a statement on the adoption day of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the P5+1 and Iran. The President said he had directed the heads of all relevant U.S. executive departments and agencies to begin preparations to implement the U.S. commitments in the JCPOA, in accordance with U.S. law. This includes providing relief from nuclear-related sanctions as detailed in the text of the JCPOA once the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified that Iran has completed all of its nuclear steps.

After a reported 10 October missile test by Iran – the first to occur since the P5+1 nuclear deal was concluded – a bipartisan group of lawmakers pressed President Obama to respond last week, noting the test is a violation of existing U.N. Security Council (UNSC) prohibitions. The Iran nuclear deal does not include any limitations on Tehran’s missile program. Iran is still prohibited, however, from launching intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) by a 2010 UNSC Resolution. Tehran violated that prohibition a number of times prior to the conclusion of the nuclear deal. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) and Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) wrote to President Obama last Wednesday inquiring whether the missile test triggered any U.S. or U.N. sanctions. The Senators said the test reinforced their view the United States was wrong to have excluded Iran’s missile program from the nuclear negotiations.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power confirmed last Friday that Iran launched “a medium-range ballistic missile inherently capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.” She added, “This was a clear violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929.” According to Ambassador Power, the United States is preparing a report on the incident for the UNSC’s Iran Sanctions Committee and will raise the matter directly with Security Council members “in the coming days.” While U.N. sanctions of Iranian individuals or entities could occur, Russia and China – who have opposed the sanctions on Iran’s missile program – will likely move to block additions to the U.N. blacklist.

Russia – Ukraine and Syrian Crises

Last Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry recognized recent progress towards implementation of the Minsk agreements during remarks at Harvard University. He suggested that continued progress in implementation of the agreements by Ukraine, the separatists and Russia and the continued ceasefire on the ground may “change the choices with respect to sanctions ultimately.”

In a statement last Tuesday, National Security Council Spokesperson Ned Price welcomed the release of the Dutch Safety Board’s investigatory report on the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014.   Price noted the report served as a basis for further investigations to identify those responsible for the deaths of 298 men, women, and children. He emphasized the United States’ assessment remains unchanged – MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. On Thursday, Ukraine was elected to serve a two-year term on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), along with Egypt, Japan, Senegal, and Uruguay.

In remarks last week before the Association of the U.S. Army, Defense Secretary Ash Carter criticized Russia’s air strikes in Syria, alleging its forces have been engaged in “increasingly unprofessional behavior,” and reiterated the United States will not cooperate with Russian airstrikes. Secretary Carter also reiterated the U.S. military will take “all necessary steps to deter Russia’s malign and destabilizing influence, coercion, and aggression” in Europe.

  • On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Russian Engagement in the Western Hemisphere.”

Asia-Pacific – South Korean President’s Visit to Washington

Last Friday, President Obama hosted South Korean President Park Geun-hye at the White House, with the White House releasing a fact sheet on the strong bilateral relationship. Presidents Obama and Park issued a joint statement affirming the United States-Republic of Korea alliance remains committed to countering the threat to peace and security posed by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs as well as other provocations.   Both also resolved to maintain a robust deterrence posture and to enhance the existing collaboration in order to better respond to all forms of North Korean provocations. Vice President Joe Biden hosted the President Park for a lunch meeting last Thursday.

  • This Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “The Persistent North Korea Denuclearization and Human Rights Challenge.”
  • On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade is expected to hold a hearing titled, “North Korea: Back on the State Sponsor of Terrorism List?”
  • On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Burma’s Challenge: Democracy, Human Rights, Peace, and the Plight of the Rohingya.”

Afghanistan – Drawdown Change Announced

Despite campaign promises to withdraw all U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan before leaving office, last Thursday President Obama announced he plans to keep 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016. The President called his decision the “best possibility for lasting progress” in the country. He stated Afghan forces “are not as strong as they need to be,” while acknowledging the Taliban has made recent territorial gains in Afghanistan.

Africa – Boko Haram and the Great Lakes Region

Last Wednesday, President Obama informed Congress that he had authorized the deployment of up to 300 U.S. troops and equipment to Cameroon to assist with boosting intelligence capabilities in the ongoing regional efforts to combat Boko Haram.

  • On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Africa’s Great Lakes Region: A Security, Political, and Humanitarian Challenge.”

TPP Deal – Text Eagerly Awaited

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said last week that the Obama Administration will work with congressional leadership on a yet-to-be-determined timetable for consideration of the final Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest suggested the Obama Administration is taking into consideration the timeline to ensure a final Congressional vote will happen before the lame duck session of Congress in December 2016.

Ambassador Froman also confirmed this week that the TPP countries continue to work on completing the final details of the text. He did not provide an estimated date by which the legal review of the text may be completed or the text publicly released; however, some sources report the text may be available in early November.

Safe Harbor Agreement – Next Round of TTIP Negotiations This Week

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker signaled last Thursday that the European Union is holding up completion of a major reform of the transatlantic “safe harbor” agreement, which allows U.S. companies to transfer European citizens’ data outside the EU. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) invalidated the agreement in a ruling the week before. Damien Levie, the head of the Agriculture and Trade Section at the Delegation of the European Union to Washington, urged this week that the U.S. Congress pass the Judicial Redress Act (“JRA”, H.R. 1428) to address some of the uncertainty surrounding the ECJ decision.

It is also important to recognize that the ongoing Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations could provide a forum for the discussion of a possible side agreement to address the ECJ’s concerns. A deeper discussion of data protection concerns could also be addressed in a more detailed chapter of TTIP, especially since the chapters have yet to be finalized. The next round of TTIP negotiations start today in Miami, Florida, and could provide a critical forum for discussion of next steps.

Climate Change

This morning, President Obama will host a roundtable with CEOs to discuss efforts to tackle climate change both in the United States and globally. The discussion will focus on how to further efforts around carbon mitigation, sustainability and resiliency and how technologies are emerging to support and scale these efforts.

  • On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Multilateral International Development, Multilateral Institutions, and International Economic, Energy, and Environmental Policy is expected to hold a hearing titled, “2015 Paris International Climate Negotiations: Examining the Economic and Environmental Impacts.”

Defense – Congressional Hearings

  • On Wednesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Future of Defense Reform.” Former Secretary Of Defense Robert Gates is scheduled to testify.
  • On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Examining DOD Security Cooperation: When It Works and When It Doesn’t.”
  • On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Update on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program.”
  • On Thursday, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on X is expected to hold a hearing titled, “Countering Adversarial Propaganda: Charting an Effective Course in the Contested Information Environment.”

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 19-23 October: 11th Round of TTIP Negotiations in Miami, Florida
  • 25 October: Ukraine local elections
  • [TBD] November: President Obama hosts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
  • 14-22 November: President Obama travels to Turkey, Philippines and Malaysia
  • 30 Nov.-11 Dec.: U.N. Global Climate Conference in Paris, France
  • 15-18 December: 10th WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, Kenya