Congress returns to Washington today after a two week recess. Both chambers must quickly pass legislation to fund the Federal Government through the end of FY 2017, before existing authority expires on 28 April.

President Donald Trump signed a number of orders last week related to trade and financial services.   He signed an Executive Order on Tuesday focused on his “Buy American, Hire American” policy.  The President signed a memorandum on Thursday directing the Secretary of Commerce to investigate the implications of steel imports to possible threats to U.S. national security and provide the White House with a report of recommendations. President Trump also signed three directives on Friday related to financial services. The President is expected to sign additional orders this week, ahead of the 100 day mark of his presidency on 29 April.  These orders will reportedly focus on offshore drilling, cybersecurity, veterans affairs and agriculture.

President Trump also welcomed Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni to the White House last week.  He will welcome Argentine President Mauricio Macri this Thursday.

Last Friday, President Trump also welcomed Aya Hijazi, an American aid worker detained for three years in Egypt, to the Oval Office after quietly working to secure her release this week. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said at a press briefing on Friday that President Trump directed his national security team weeks ago to work on securing her freedom. Spicer also said the President talked privately about her case when he met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the White House earlier this month.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis travelled to the Middle East last week, with stops in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Qatar and Djibouti.  Vice President Michael Pence will conclude a 10-day Asia-Pacific trip  early this week that had stops in Alaska, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Australia and Hawaii.

Italy – President Trump Hosted the Italian Prime Minister

The President welcomed Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni for a bilateral meeting on Thursday. At a joint press conference, President Trump acknowledged Italy’s contributions to the fight against ISIS and in Afghanistan, adding the two countries could partner to address “large-scale migration and international smuggling.”  The visit comes one month before President Trump’s trip to Italy for the G-7 Summit.  Prime Minister Gentiloni affirmed to the press that Italy is working toward its 2 percent GDP NATO commitment.

President Trump fielded a question about the United States’ role in Libya, responding:

“I do not see a role in Libya.  I think the United States has right now enough roles.  We’re in a role everywhere.  So I do not see that.  I do see a role in getting rid of ISIS.  . . .  I see that as a primary role, and that’s what we’re going to do, whether it’s in Iraq or in Libya or anywhere else.  And that role will come to an end at a certain point, and we’ll be able to go back home and rebuild our country, which is what I want to do.”

The two leaders were at their podiums when reports emerged of an attack in Paris that killed one police officer and wounded two others.  President Trump expressed condolences to the people of France in what he said “looks like another terrorist attack.”

Vice President Pence’s Asia-Pacific Trip Recapped

Vice President Pence met with U.S.-South Korean business CEOs while in Seoul last Tuesday morning, prior to heading to Japan.  According to the White House, the Vice President reiterated security concerns with respect to North Korea, prior to discussing trade matters with the business group.  Vice President Pence said of trade:

“President Trump has made it clear that the United States will pursue and America first policy in trade and exchange.  We’ll pursue trade that is both free and fair, and that will be true in all of our trade relationships, including KORUS.  We’re reviewing all of our trade agreements across the world to ensure that they benefit our economy as much as they benefit our trading partners.”

In Tokyo, Vice President Pence met with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso to discuss a framework for the new Japan-U.S. Economic Dialogue, which was officially kicked off, “opening a new page” for the bilateral relationship.  At a joint press conference, Deputy Prime Minister Aso said that the dialogue would include three pillars: (1) a common strategy on trade and investment rules and issues; (2) cooperation in economic and structural policy area; and (3) sectoral cooperation.  Vice President Pence said that “This dialogue presents the United States and Japan with an opportunity to deepen our bilateral economic ties and to foster jobs, prosperity, and growth.”

Vice President Pence was still in Tokyo on Wednesday.  From the deck of the USS Ronald Reagan, the Vice President reiterated the “United States-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of peace, prosperity, and freedom in the Asia Pacific.”  The Vice President also recapped recent U.S. military action and said the United States “will defend the rules-based order upon which the region’s progress, past and future, depends.  We will protect the freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea, in the South China Sea and elsewhere, and we will ensure the unimpeded flow of lawful commerce on the Seven Seas.  And we will uphold international rules and norms, promote peaceful diplomatic dialogue to address issues of regional and international concern, and we will defend human rights — because the dignity and worth of every person is an eternal value of the United States of America.”

In Jakarta on Thursday, Vice President Pence met with President Joko Widodo. At a joint press conference, the Vice President said the United States seeks to expand the commercial relationship with Indonesia and increase U.S. market access. He also spoke of the bilateral security relationship and shared efforts to combat the spread of terrorism. Still in Indonesia on Friday, Vice President Pence announced U.S. and Indonesian businesses signed 11 commercial deals worth $10 billion.  While the Vice President praised reforms in Indonesia, he also touched again on market access issues, noting this includes intellectual property (IP) challenges, a lack of transparency and local manufacturing content requirements.

Vice President Pence arrived in Australia late on Friday, spending the weekend there and meeting with Australian officials.  The Vice President will next travel to Hawaii before returning to Washington early this week.

Syria – Chemical Weapons Stockpiles Exist

During a joint press conference with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Friday, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis shared that the Syrian Air Force has moved its combat aircraft to make them less vulnerable to attack. “They have dispersed their aircraft, no doubt,” Mattis said during the first visit to Israel by a Cabinet official from the Trump Administration.

Secretary Mattis also confirmed reports that the Syrian regime, which was targeted by U.S. missile strikes for air attacks against rebel fighters using nerve gas, still has stockpiles of chemical weapons. The Secretary said:

“Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of its agreement and its statement that they removed them all.  It is a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

The Secretary emphasized the U.S. position that that any further chemical attacks would not be tolerated.

Israel – Security Relationship Reaffirmed

After meeting with Minister Lieberman, Secretary Mattis also pledged to further enhance military cooperation with Israel, including assistance in acquiring new weapons. He called the $30 billion aid package signed last year by the Obama Administration a “foundation of our long term commitment.” The pact will “enable Israel to continue to acquire the most advanced U.S. military technology,” according to Secretary Mattis.

Iran – Administration Remains Critical of the Deal

Late last Tuesday, the State Department posted a statement from Secretary Tillerson noting that he had informed Congress that “Iran is compliant through April 18th with its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” but adding that the President “has directed a National Security Council-led interagency review” of the nuclear deal. Secretary Tillerson also addressed the media on Wednesday, giving remarks critical of Iran, its alleged destabilizing activities across the Middle East, and the nuclear deal.

Global Magnitsky – Administration Submits First Report

In accordance with Section 1264 of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, President Trump submitted a report to the relevant congressional committees on the bill’s implementation on Thursday. The report, which is currently not publicly available, was compiled by the Departments of State and the Treasury, and other relevant executive departments and agencies.  While the Administration has not yet identified any individuals or entities for designation under the Global Magnitsky Act, nor has Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published any additions to the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List, a letter accompanying the report noted his Administration’s support for the “important legislation,” adding “my Administration is actively identifying persons and entities to whom the Act may apply and are collecting the evidence necessary to apply it. Over the coming weeks and months, agencies will undertake thorough interagency vetting to ensure we fulfill our commitment to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses and corruption accountable.”

Afghanistan –MOAB Impact Investigation a No-Go

Secretary Mattis confirmed the United States will not conduct a damage assessment in eastern Afghanistan after the United States dropped the so-called “mother of all bombs,” a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), on Islamic State fighters. The Secretary told reporters:  “We stay away from [bomb damage assessment] in terms of the number of enemy killed,” adding, “[it] is continuing our same philosophy that we don’t get into that, plus, frankly, digging into tunnels to count dead bodies is probably not a good use of our troops’ time.”

The U.S. military dropped a GBU-43/B on a tunnel complex used by ISIS in Afghanistan on 13 April. The strike was the first time the U.S. used it during combat. The Afghan government estimated that the weapon killed more than 90 ISIS militants.

Shortly after dropping theMOAB, National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster met with met Afghan officials in Kabul on 9 April and said the Trump Administration is weighing diplomatic, military, and economic responses to the Taliban and ISIS threats in Afghanistan, adding:  “We’ll give him those options.  And we’ll be prepared to execute whatever decision he makes.”  NSA McMaster met with President Ashraf Ghani and other senior Afghan officials to discuss bilateral relations, including security and counter-terrorism efforts.

Iraq – U.S. Approves a Military Equipment Sale

The Department of State has approved the sale of $295.6 million worth of U.S. military equipment to Iraq for artillery and infantry Kurdish Peshmerga units, the Pentagon confirmed on 19 April. According to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the equipment requested by the Iraqi government would outfit two Peshmerga infantry brigades and two support artillery battalions. While Congress was notified of the approval on 18 April, the notice does not mean the sale has been concluded, the agency said.

Trade – NAFTA Raised Again

President Trump spoke of trade agreements, including, last Tuesday while in Wisconsin to sign an Executive Order.  With respect to the North American Free Trade Agreement, the President said:  “We’re also going to stand up for our dairy farmers in Wisconsin.”  He added:  “Because in Canada, some very unfair things have happened to our dairy farmers and others, and we’re going to strategy working on that with [Senator] Ron [Johnson] and with [Governor] Scott [Walker] and with [Speaker of the House] Paul [Ryan], with all of your representatives.  What’s happened to you is very, very unfair.  It’s another typical one-sided deal against the United States.  And it’s not going to be happening for long.”

Cuba – Ex-Military Officers Argue for Lifting Cuba Embargo

Over a dozen retired military officers encouraged President Trump to normalize relations with Cuba for national security reasons, in a letter reportedly hand-delivered to NSA McMaster. “Cuba’s location in the Caribbean and proximity to the U.S. make it a natural and strategically valuable partner on issues of immediate concern, including terrorism, border control, drug interdiction, environmental protections, and emergency preparedness,” the retired officers wrote in the letter.  According to them, building on progress that former President Barack Obama made over the past two years would “finally secure the United States’ ‘Third Border.’”

President Trump has yet to take a clear stance on his policy toward Cuba, but has previously said he would reverse the Obama Administration’s decision to open relations if a better agreement between the two countries is not possible.

 Foreign Policy-Related Congressional Hearings This Week

  • On Tuesday, 25 April, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “United States Assistance for Egypt.”
  • On Tuesday, 25 April, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “The Crisis in Libya: Next Steps and U.S. Policy Options.”
  • On Wednesday, 26 April, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “China’s Technological Rise: Challenges to U.S. Innovation and Security.”
  • On Wednesday, 26 April, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “The Questionable Case for Easing Sudan Sanctions.”
  • On Wednesday, 26 April, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the following nominations: (1) The Honorable Tulinabo Salama to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau; and (2) Mr. Todd Philip Haskell to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Congo.
  • On Thursday, 27 April, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Syria After the Missile Strikes: Policy Options.”
  • On Thursday, 27 April, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Afghanistan’s Terrorist Resurgence: Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Beyond.”
  • On Thursday, 27 April, the Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Countering Russia: Furthering Assessing Options for Sanctions.”
  • On Thursday, 27 April, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Terrorism and Illicit Finance is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Safeguarding the Financial System from Terrorist Financing.”

Defense-Related Congressional Hearings This Week

  • On Tuesday, 25 April, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Policy and Strategy in the Asia-Pacific.”
  • On Wednesday, 26 April, the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Military Assessment of the Security Challenges in the Indo-Asia-Pacific Region.”
  • On Thursday, 27 April, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “United States Pacific Command and United States Forces Korea.”
  • On Thursday, 27 April, the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Cybersecurity is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Cyber-enabled Information Operations.”

Looking Ahead

Washington is expected to focus on the following upcoming events:

  • 20 April: President Trump welcomes Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy to the White House
  • 21-23 April: World Bank/International Monetary Fund Spring Meeting in Washington
  • 27 April: President Trump will host Argentine President Mauricio Macri
  • 28 April: S. Federal Government funding expires
  • Late April: Trump Administration may formally notify Congress of intent to renegotiate NAFTA
  • 25 May: President Trump to attend the NATO Leaders Meeting in Belgium
  • 26-28 May: President Trump to attend the G-7 Leaders’ Summit in Taormina, Sicily
  • 18-20 June:  SelectUSA Investment Summit in National Harbor, Maryland