President Donald Trump welcomed Argentine President Mauricio Macri to the White House last Thursday. In a joint statement, the two leaders committed to expanding bilateral trade and investments; strengthening cooperation to counter narco-trafficking, terrorist financing, money laundering, corruption and other illicit finance activities; and increasing cooperation on cyber policy. President Trump will welcome Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House on Wednesday. The President will travel to New York City on Thursday for an event and will also meet with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

President Trump signed multiple executive documents last week, including a Memorandum on aluminum and national security interests, as well as Executive Orders (E.O.) on veterans affairs, energy, agriculture, land management, and education. President Trump marked his 100th day in office with a Make America Great Again rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, after signing two more E.O.s related to trade on Saturday.

On Friday, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis honored two U.S. Army Rangers who died Thursday in Afghanistan. He said: “They carried out their operation against [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan] in Afghanistan before making the ultimate sacrifice to defend our nation and our freedoms.”

Congress passed a short-term measure on Friday to fund the Federal Government for another week, allowing both chambers additional time to negotiate a longer-term measure that will fund the Government through the end of Fiscal Year 2017.  The Senate also approved the nomination of Sonny Perdue to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture last Monday. Congress is in session this week.

North Korea – U.S. Continues Pressure on the International Community

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson chaired the U.N. Security Council on Friday, where he focused on North Korea’s illegal nuclear program and its continued provocative activities. He sought to get the Council to act and leverage additional pressure on North Korea, saying:

“For too long, the international community has been reactive in addressing North Korea. Those days must come to an end.”

He outlined steps that the international community could undertake to leverage North Korea into abandoning its nuclear program. The White House released a brief statement on Friday afternoon acknowledging President Trump was briefed on North Korea’s failed missile test that day.

On Wednesday, after a briefing to the Senators at the White House, Secretary Tillerson, Defense Secretary Mattis, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a joint statement on North Korea’s unlawful weapons programs and nuclear and ballistic missile tests, saying each provocation jeopardizes stability in Northeast Asia and poses a growing threat to U.S. allies and the U.S. homeland. The officials noted: “We are engaging responsible members of the international community to increase pressure on the D.P.R.K. in order to convince the regime to de-escalate and return to the path of dialogue. We will maintain our close coordination and cooperation with our Allies, especially the Republic of Korea and Japan, as we work together to preserve stability and prosperity in the region. The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We remain open to negotiations towards that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our Allies.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford also participated in the Senate briefing.  In a summary, the Defense Department recapped North Korea as an urgent national security threat and a top foreign policy priority for the U.S. Government.

On 27 April, the head of U.S. Pacific Command recommended that the U.S. military develop capabilities that can directly defend against North Korean artillery. Testifying at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week, Adm. Harry Harris shared that the U.S. currently cannot counter an artillery barrage from North Korea. He explained the missile defense system that the United States is deploying to South Korea, is only designed to intercept ballistic missiles. North Korea currently possesses roughly 4,000 artillery pieces positioned near the demilitarized zone. Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Arizona) noted that these pieces had the potential to target the South Korean capital, Seoul, and its metropolitan area of 26 million people.

South Korea – McMaster Affirms Missile Defense

On 30 April, National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster confirmed that the United States would adhere to its agreement with South Korea for a new missile defense system, but indicated that payment for the system might be renegotiated.  The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, also known as THAAD, is being rolled out in response to military provocations from North Korea.

In an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” McMaster shared that he told his South Korean counterpart that “until any renegotiation, that the deal’s in place,” but explained that, “what the president’s asked us to do is to look across all of our alliances and to have appropriate burden-sharing, responsibility-sharing.”  President Donald Trump said in a recent interview that he “informed South Korea it would be appropriate if they paid” for the missile defense system.

Syria, Iraq – Combating ISIS

The Pentagon gave an update last Friday on the U.S. and Coalition military forces’ efforts to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Coalition forces conducted 24 strikes consisting of 30 engagements against ISIS targets in Syria. In Iraq, Coalition forces conducted eight strikes consisting of 24 engagements against ISIS targets, coordinated with and in support of the Iraqi government. The destruction of ISIS targets in both countries also further limits the group’s ability to project terror and conduct external operations throughout the region and the rest of the world, according to task force officials.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Thursday at a U.N. Security Council session she chaired on the humanitarian crisis in Syria:

“All eyes and all pressure now need to go to Russia because they are the ones that could stop this if they wanted to…the images don’t lie. The humanitarian workers don’t lie. The fact that they can’t get the assistance they need – that’s not lying. What is, is to continue to give Russia a pass for allowing this terrible situation to occur. I will continue to press the Security Council to act, to do something, regardless of if the Russians continue to veto it, because it is our voice that needs to be heard.”

The Department of State designated Mubarak Mohammed A Alotaibi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) under Executive Order E.O. 13224 on 27 April.  Alotaibi is the Syria-based deputy leader of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) affiliate in Saudi Arabia, which was designated by the U.S. Department of State as a SDGT under E.O. 13224 on 19 May 2016.

On 24 April, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced new sanctions targeting 271 Syrian individuals in response to the 4 April sarin gas attack in Syria. According to an accompanying press release, the action – one of the largest OFAC has ever taken – targets employees of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC). They have been added to OFAC’s list of Specially Designated Nationals (also known as the SDN List) pursuant to Executive Order 13582, “Blocking Property of the Government of Syria and Prohibiting Certain Transactions With Respect to Syria.” The full list of newly-designated individuals can be found here.

Afghanistan – Review of U.S. Policy

Defense Secretary Mattis added another stop to his Middle East trip last week that focused on a theme of combatting ISIS. The Secretary was in Kabul, Afghanistan, last Monday. At a press conference Secretary Mattis said of the 21 April Taliban attack on an Afghan military base and mosque that killed more than 100 people: “As if we needed a reminder of the type of enemy we’re up against, the killing of Afghan citizens and soldiers — protectors of the people — just as they were coming out of a mosque, a house of worship, it certainly characterizes this fight for exactly what it is. These people have no religious foundation. They are not devout anything, and it shows why we stand with the people of this country against such heinous acts perpetrated by this barbaric enemy and what they do.”

Regarding President Trump’s directive to review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, Secretary Mattis said: “This dictates an ongoing dialogue with Afghanistan’s leadership, and that’s why I came here: to get with President Ghani and his ministers and hear directly and at length from … General Nicholson to provide my best assessment and advice as we go forward.”

NAFTA – U.S. Withdrawal Averted

President Trump considered signing an order last week that would have withdrawn the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). After news of the possible action emerged, the leaders of Mexico and Canada, interested stakeholders, and Members of Congress rallied to call the White House and urge against such action. President Trump said in an interview on Thursday: “I was all set to terminate [NAFTA]. I looked forward to terminating. I was going to do it.” Later in the interview, the President added he reserves the right to change his mind – “I can always terminate.”

Nominations – Update

The Senate has yet to schedule a final vote on Amb. Robert Lighthizer’s nomination to serve as U.S. Trade Representative.  A vote is expected to happen in the next couple of weeks.

Last week, President Trump announced his intent to nominate the following individuals: (1) Kari A. Bingen to serve as Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.  Ms. Bingen currently serves as the policy director for the House Armed Services Committee.  (2) Robert Story Karem to serve as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.  Mr. Karem most recently served on the Presidential Transition Team as an advisor to Central Intelligence Agency Director, Mike Pompeo, during his confirmation process.  He previously served in the White House as a Middle East policy advisor to former Vice President Richard B. Cheney.

Congressional Hearings This Week

  • On Tuesday, 2 May, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Wining the Fight Against Human Trafficking: The Frederick Douglass Reauthorization Act.”
  • On Tuesday, 2 May, the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Examining the U.S. – E.U. Covered Agreements.”
  • On Tuesday, 2 May, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a hearing to consider the nomination of the Honorable Terry Brandstad, to serve as U.S. Ambassador to China.
  • On Wednesday, 3 May, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing to consider the following bills:
    • R. 1625 – To amend the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956 to include severe forms of trafficking in persons within the definition of transnational organized crime for purposes of the rewards program of the Department of State, and for other purposes.
    • R. 1677 – To halt the wholesale slaughter of the Syrian people, encourage a negotiated political settlement, and hold Syrian human rights abusers accountable for their crimes.
    • R. 2200 – To reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, and for other purposes.
  • On Wednesday, 3 May, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Economic, Energy, and Environmental Policy is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Global Philanthropy and Remittances and International Development.”
  • On Thursday, 4 May, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “International Development: Value Added Through Private Sector Engagement.”

Looking Ahead

Washington is expected to focus on the following upcoming events:

  • 3 May: President Trump will welcome Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
  • 4 May: President Trump travels to New York City, where he will hold a bilateral meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
  • May: Formal notification to Congress of intent to renegotiate NAFTA expected
  • 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