Last week, Washington hosted the final U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) under the Obama Administration. On Saturday, President Barack Obama issued a statement on the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, as did several Members of Congress.

This week, the House of Representatives has noted a possible vote on the reconciled Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) report. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) announced on 22 November that he will introduce a resolution this week stating the sense of Congress that President-Elect Donald Trump should convert his corporate “assets to simple, conflict-free holdings, adopt blind trusts, or take other equivalent measures, in order to ensure consistency with the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

Cuba – U.S. Government Responds to Fidel Castro’s Death

In the statement released on 26 November, President Obama said of the former Cuban leader:

“[W]e extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans – in Cuba and in the United States – with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”

President-Elect Trump, who is critical of the Castro regime in Cuba and changed his position from supporting rapprochement to sustaining U.S. sanctions during the election campaign, also issued a statement on Saturday morning, saying:

“Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades.” He added:  “While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”

Members of the U.S. Congress also responded to the news of Fidel Castro’s death, including some Members who have not been as receptive to the Obama Administration’s rapprochement efforts. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (D-Florida) said:

“The day that the people, both inside the island and out, have waited for has arrived: A tyrant is dead and a new beginning can dawn on the last remaining communist bastion of the Western hemisphere.” She added: “Those who still rule Cuba with an iron grip may attempt to delay the island’s liberation, but they cannot stop it.  Castro’s successors cannot hide and must not be allowed to hide beneath cosmetic changes that will only lengthen the malaise of the Cuban nation. No regime, no matter who leads it, will have a shred of legitimacy if it has not been chosen by the people of Cuba in free and fair elections.”

Florida Senator Marco Rubio also issued a statement on Fidel Castro’s death, characterizing the former leader as an “an evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery and suffering on his own people,” while also adding:

“The future of Cuba ultimately remains in the hands of the Cuban people, and now more than ever Congress and the new administration must stand with them against their brutal rulers and support their struggle for freedom and basic human rights.”

Representative Ed Royce (R-California) said in his capacity as the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee:

“For more than half a century, the Cuban people have suffered under the brutal dictatorship of the Castro clan. No one should rule anywhere near as long as Fidel Castro did.  His legacy is one of repression at home, and support for terrorism abroad.  Sadly, Raul Castro is no better for Cubans who yearn for freedom.”

Senator Bob Corker’s (R-Tennessee), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, statement commented on possible changes ahead in Cuba:

“Under Fidel Castro’s brutal and oppressive dictatorship, the Cuban people have suffered politically and economically for decades, and it is my hope that his passing might turn the page toward a better way of life for the many who have dreamed of a brighter future for their country.”

Iran – House Leaders Urge Obama to Halt Additional Concession Plans

On 22 November, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California), and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-California) sent a letter to President Obama asking him to halt any plans for new concessions to Iran during his final days in office. The letter came amid reports the Obama Administration is taking additional steps to bolster Iran’s economy and also encourages President Obama to sign bipartisan legislation currently pending in the Senate to extend the Iran Sanctions Act for ten years.  Meanwhile, the Obama Administration said last Tuesday that it had issued a second license to France’s Airbus to sell commercial planes to Iran Air, bringing Iran’s flag carrier a step closer to receiving new Western jets under the comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran.

  • On Tuesday, 29 November, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Defeating the Iranian Threat Network: Options for Countering Iranian Proxies.”

Syria – Aleppo Bombarded; U.S. Solider Dies

U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura expressed hope that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry will continue to push forward yet this year in trying to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria, citing legacy concerns. The United Nations also warned that the rebel-held portions of Aleppo are facing food shortages and possible starvation.  Meanwhile, the Pentagon confirmed that a U.S. soldier had been killed on Thanksgiving Day inside Syria, where up to 300 U.S. service members are reportedly advising and assisting Syrian Kurdish and Arab rebel forces that are fighting the Islamic State.

Russia/Georgia – U.S. Condemns Russian “Treaty” with Abkhazia

On 22 November, the United States noted its strong opposition to the Russian Federation’s ratification of an agreement secured with the de facto leaders in Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia regarding a joint military force.  The State Department said, “We do not recognize the legitimacy of this so-called ‘treaty,’ which does not constitute a valid international agreement.”

JCCT Readout

At last week’s JCCT meeting between U.S. and Chinese officials, the dialogue focused on ensuring the implementation of past JCCT commitments and the announcement of some additional commitments to promote open trade and investment. The two sides also announced future dialogues and collaborative and capacity building efforts, detailed in a fact sheet released by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

To address excess capacity, China and the United States agreed to jointly promote the expeditious establishment of the Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity. Moreover, both agreed to hold an informal JCCT Steel Dialogue in 2017, to “fulfill the consensus reached at the G-20 Leaders Hangzhou Summit and the 8th U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in June, exchange and share global steel development information, review steel capacity and production and the trade situation since the 2016 JCCT Steel Dialogue, and share the experiences and lessons learned with regard to structural adjustment under the circumstances of excess capacity.”  The United States and China also agreed to work together to address global electrolytic aluminum excess capacity.

TPP – Trump Vows To Withdraw

On 21 November, President-Elect Trump said in a video that he would withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal on day one in office. The President-Elect has instead voiced support for bilateral agreements.

The day before President-Elect Trump’s announcement, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman was asked what would happen if the United States withdraws from TPP in an interview. In response, he acknowledged, new ground is being broken, and he offered:

“It’s possible the other countries will find a way to move on without us with the hope that we would join some time in the future. It’s possible they’ll pursue other trade agreements.”

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) responded to President-Elect Trump’s announcement on TPP, saying:

“I respect President-Elect Trump for fulfilling his campaign promise to withdraw from TPP, but I am convinced that we have to reach these customers if we want to get America’s economy moving again.” He added:  “We can’t abandon these markets to China and other competitors because American businesses and customers will lose out.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) also responded, saying:

“While it appears that there is no viable path forward for the [TPP] this year, I remain committed to working with my colleagues in Congress and the new administration to advance strong trade policies that will enhance America’s global competitiveness, increase access to new, international markets, and ensure we secure the best possible trade deals for American workers and entrepreneurs.”

Congressional Hearings This Week

  • On Tuesday, 29 November, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Department of Defense Actions Concerning Voluntary Education Programs.”
  • On Wednesday, 30 November, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade and the Subcommittee on the Middle East and Africa is scheduled to hold a joint hearing titled, “Libya Five Years After Ghadafi.”
  • On Thursday, 1 December, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Oversight, Acquisition, Testing, and Employment of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and LCS Mission Module Programs.”
  • On Thursday, 1 December, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Force Management Levels in Iraq and Afghanistan; Readiness and Strategic Considerations.”

Looking Ahead

Washington is expected to focus on the following upcoming events:

  • 9 December: U.S. Federal Government funding expires
  • 3 January: 115th Congress convenes
  • 20 January: Inauguration of the 45th President of the United States of America