Congress Returns Ready To Scrutinize Any P5+1 Agreement Reached With Iran; Ex-Im Bank Charter Expires, Possible Congressional Action In July; And The NDAA And Customs Bills Are Expected To Be Conferenced In July
As was expected, the P5+1 countries agreed last week to extend their voluntary deadline for finalizing a comprehensive deal with Iran over its nuclear program by one week to 7 July. At a White House press briefing, President Obama acknowledged that hard negotiations remain, but it will ultimately be up to the Iranians to meet the demands of the international community and ensure its nuclear program is purely peaceful. Reuters viewed a confidential monthly report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that said Iran’s stockpile of uranium gas enriched up to a fissile purity of 5 percent was at 7,537 kg at the end of June, which is just below the roughly 7,650 kg ceiling stipulated in the November 2013 P5+1 interim nuclear deal with Iran.
The Obama Administration is reportedly positioning the IAEA to be tasked with policing Iran’s nuclear sites and ensuring it does not resume work on a covert weapons program. Some U.S. lawmakers and Mideast diplomats are questioning whether the IAEA will have the mandate, manpower, and resources necessary to effectively police Iran, noting that the agency failed to detect covert nuclear programs in Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Libya in the past.
On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the implications of a nuclear agreement with Iran.
A U.S. congressional delegation headed by Representative Peter Roskam (R-Illinois) met last week with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko to discuss the situation in eastern Ukraine and his government’s economic reforms. The group visited Ukraine and Georgia during the congressional recess as part of a bipartisan delegation organized by the House Democracy Partnership, a Congressional commission focused on supporting legislatures in emerging democracies. Representative Roskam emphasized that the United States and its allies are now facing the serious challenge of countering authoritarianism in the world, which he considers a reason why providing support for Ukraine is a top U.S. foreign policy priority.
During a visit coinciding with the 25th anniversary of Lithuania’s independence, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) stressed last week that the United States’ commitment to countering Russia’s allegedly growing strength and political influence in the region. In meetings with senior government officials, Speaker Boehner stated that Congress is dedicated to countering this alleged strength through expanded trade, energy independence, and defense assistance to Ukraine. He lauded Lithuania for arming Ukraine and declaring energy independence.
Meanwhile, the press reported last week that Dnipro-1, one of Ukraine’s pro-government volunteer regiments, released drone footage of a Russian military camp just south of the village of Sontsevo in the Donetsk region. Over the course of two weeks, the camp reportedly grew from a small collection of tents to a forward operating base (FOB), complete with tanks, communications equipment, and personnel quarters. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Arizona), who travelled to Ukraine in mid-June, confirmed via Twitter that Dnipro-1 had briefed him on the drone footage and Russian military build-up in eastern Ukraine.
Expected Conferencing on Bills
With the return of Congress, in July, both chambers are expected to conference and reconcile the differences contained in their respective passed Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bills.
Also, there is speculation that Malaysia and potentially other Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries may not be willing to make concessions in ongoing negotiations until they are assured that the final deal will be subject to fast-track protection. Given that the House-passed trade facilitation and enforcement (“customs”) bill contains a human trafficking provision that would modify the TPA bill and call into question Malaysia’s participation in the TPP, the Senate and House are expected to quickly convene a conference to finalize and pass the customs bill in both chambers for the President’s signature into law.
Last Monday, President Obama signed the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill and the Trade Adjustment Assistance and U.S. trade preferences bill into law. Among the programs reauthorized in the trade preferences bill is the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which will be reinstated 30 days after the law is enacted. The bill will also extend duty reductions retroactively for any goods that entered in between 31 July 2013 and the effective date 29 July 2015.
Ex-Im Bank Update
The U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank’s charter expired on at midnight on Tuesday 30 June, after Congress failed to renew it for the first time in 81 years. Senate Republican critics of the Bank requested Ex-Im provide a specific timeline on how and when it would pursue “orderly liquidation” to them by 15 July.
Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama participated in a White House outreach call with stakeholders to reaffirm his commitment to reauthorizing the Bank. The White House also released a fact sheet calling for Ex-Im’s reauthorization. According to Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), President Obama plans to meet with her and other Ex-Im supporters on 8 July. One possible legislative vehicle for reauthorizing Ex-Im is the Highway Trust Fund bill.
Media reports last week indicated the United States rejected attempts by its Middle East allies to fly heavy weapons directly to Kurds fighting ISIL in Iraq. Meanwhile, U.S. and Coalition Forces continue airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
This Tuesday, 7 July, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing to examine the U.S. counter-ISIL strategy. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey are scheduled to testify.
On Thursday, 9 July, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East will hold a hearing titled, “The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Camp David Summit: Any Results?” Non-government experts will testify on how to improve U.S. policy in order to address GCC concerns and strengthen the security interests of the United States and Israel, such as additional GCC defense cooperation and reevaluating the U.S. approach to the Assad regime in Syria, ISIL, and Iran.
State-Foreign Operations (SFOPs) Appropriations
The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark-up its SFOPs measure on Thursday, 9 July. The Subcommittee markup will occur on Tuesday, 7 July.
On Wednesday, 8 July, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a closed briefing on the Department of Defense maritime activities and engagement in the South China Sea.
Also on Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittees on Asia and the Pacific and on Nonproliferation will hold a hearing titled, “Reviewing the U.S.-China Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement.”
On Thursday, 9 July, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa will hold a hearing titled, “Africa’s Displaced People.”
Last Tuesday, President Obama hosted Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff at the White House. They announced a series of new steps to boost trade and investment that creates jobs for both countries. Both leaders also spoke in favor of climate change initiatives.
Last Wednesday, after more than 54 years, President Obama announced that the United States and Cuba have agreed to formally re-establish diplomatic relations, which will re-open embassies in the respective countries.
On Thursday, 9 July, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:
13 July: President Obama to host Conference on Aging
13-17 July: 10th Round of TTIP discussions in Brussels
23-28 July: President Obama to travel to Kenya attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit
15 September: 70th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) opens in New York City
24 September: Pope Francis to address Congress and meet with President Obama
28 September: General debate of the UNGA begins
30 Nov.-11 Dec.: UN Global Climate Conference in Paris