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Washington’s World: March 2nd, 2015 – March 8th, 2015

With two key foreign policy issues – legislation for the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) and funding for the Department of Homeland Security which leads US anti-terrorist operations in the US – experiencing near-death events on Capitol Hill, it might be thought that the Administration’s international efforts would be becalmed. In fact, the opposite is true. A full US negotiating team led by Secretary of State Kerry and joined for the second time by Energy Secretary Moniz (important because the Energy Department is the custodian of the US nuclear weapons inventory) will meet with top Iranian negotiators on March 2nd in advance of full P5+1 talks on March 5th. Within the Administration hopes are consolidating that a breakthrough is within reach. Senior officials have stepped up their criticism of  Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who is due to address Congress on March 3rd. They know that they will face stern opposition to an agreement – no matter what it contains – from Congress, but are confident that they can make the changes they need in Iranian sanctions through executive action. While in Switzerland, Kerry will also have talks with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. These will concentrate on the crisis in Ukraine. In this context, the tide of the debate in Washington continues to run strongly in favor of providing strictly defensive weapons to Ukraine, with the White House making a strong case that to do otherwise would provoke Russia and make matters worse. The assassination in Moscow of the liberal activist Boris Nemtsov will further strengthen those who have no time for Russian President Putin. However, with German Chancellor Merkel urging patience to allow the Minsk ceasefire to take hold, no decisions are imminent. Additionally, a second round of diplomatic exchanges with regard to normalizing US relations with Cuba has taken place, with on this occasion both sides expressing optimism about prospects and the Cuban side backing down from its demands of an immediate end to the US trade embargo. Finally, despite the focus on these issues, new Chinese construction operations on islands in the South China Sea have not gone unnoticed. Additionally, US-China trade tensions are once again rising. Chinese president Xi Jinping is due to visit Washington in September and already expectations are being managed downwards.

Key Judgments

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