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Washington’s World: July 25th, 2016 – July 31st, 2016

As the political convention scene reaches its climax, foreign policy will have to take a back seat for the coming weeks.  It is just worth noting, however, two very different foreign policy approaches will be on offer from the political parties, with the Democrats adhering to the internationalist consensus favored by the foreign policy Establishment while the Republicans will present a much more ‘nativist’ set of ideas. Meanwhile, the issues themselves have not gone away for the current Administration. The most salient of these is Turkey where the Administration is trying to walk a fine line between public support for the Erdogan government and private concern over what many officials perceive as an unjustified purge of his opponents. With operations against the Islamic State at a crucial juncture, Pentagon leaders are arguing that the Turkish contribution is more vital than ever. Against that background, the Administration will resist any attempts, including from the European Union, to sanction Ankara. In the meantime, Administration officials are increasingly optimistic that the anti-ISIL coalition is on the threshold of a major breakthrough. Part of the build-up to this lies in the increasingly intimate exchanges between Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov about military coordination in Syria. Suffice it to say, these ideas are highly controversial with officials at the Pentagon and inside the Intelligence Community where there is strong resistance to sharing intelligence with the Russians. Despite this, however, the White House sees some form of coordination with Moscow as essential to reestablishing the ceasefire in Syria, so will tend to make light of these objections. Turning to China, there are signs that the Administration is trying to mitigate the tensions arising from the judgement against China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Next week, the National Security Adviser Susan Rice will visit Beijing to appeal for calm. White House contacts tell us that Rice will be seeking to consolidate points of agreement reached during the July 17th-20th visit to Beijing by the Chief of Naval Operations. After the initial flurry of statements and counter-statements, both sides are now trying to dampen the prospect for provocative actions. There is little doubt that Washington wants to keep things on a “holding pattern” until the current Administration leaves office.

Key Judgments

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