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Washington’s World: July 27th, 2015 – August 2nd, 2015

As President Obama embarks on a tour to Kenya and Ethiopia, he and his top leadership team are mounting a robust defense of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed with Iran. To date, opposition in Congress and from Israel has been fierce, with Secretary of State Kerry engaging in testy exchanges with some of his former colleagues in the Senate.  Now that the UN Security Council has affirmed the agreement – albeit with a 90-day delay to allow time for the Congressional review, but nonetheless irritating to Congressional leaders – the only option for opponents is to pass legislation overturning the deal and then to override the promised White House veto. Given that this requires a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House, this will be an uphill climb. Neither side, however, is yet ready to clam victory or concede defeat. One aspect that is gathering critical scrutiny, including from Democrats, is the series of unpublished annexes between the IAEA and Iran. A factor that may help tip the balance in the Administration’s direction is the sight of trade delegations from several of the US P5+1 partners already engaged in government-sponsored commercial visits to Tehran. Further, the Saudi statements of support – whether these are sincere or merely intended to avoid confrontation is a matter of analytic dispute in Washington – will also bolster the Administration’s position.  One thing that is certain is that, despite the deal, neither Washington nor Tehran is remotely close to normal relations. As Secretary of Defense Carter visited Baghdad to discuss US relations with the Iraqi military as they seek to recover Ramadi from the Islamic State, he made clear that the US sees Iranian actions and intentions in the Middle East in far from friendly terms. There is little doubt that US-Iranian relations will continue to be adversarial. Turning to Europe, a number of the most senior US military leadership has identified Russia as the most important strategic threat to the US. Upgraded military assistance to Ukraine under active consideration. It seems doubtful, however, that the White House shares this view. In a recent telephone conversation, Obama and President Putin have undertaken to work together in implementing the Iran deal and on other problems in the Middle East and Kerry plans to meet his Russian counterpart Lavrov in Doha early next month to discuss regional problem-solving.  While he totally rejects Russian actions in Ukraine, Obama is more interested in upholding the Minsk ceasefire agreement rather than seeking confrontation with Moscow.

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