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Washington’s World: September 29th – October 5th, 2014

Following his UN speech and statement on Syria, President Obama together with Secretary of State Kerry have conducted blitz of meetings at the UN General Assembly in further efforts to assemble the widest possible coalition, especially of regional states. US officials are generally happy with developments on this front – with the exception of Turkey. When Turkish hostages were being held by ISIL, there was a readiness in Washington to recognize Ankara’s constraints. Now that they have been released, US pressure is mounting on Turkey to take a more assertive role. If that fails to materialize – a failure that US officials would ascribe to President Erdogan personally – then some damage to mutual relations will result.  Despite the many speeches and statements, foreign policy analysts in Washington still see many open questions, not the least of which focuses on Syria operations. Administration officials are clear that ISIL cannot be seriously damaged, let alone destroyed unless their base areas in Syria are comprehensively attacked. There is much less clarity about how this can be done without having the effect of propping up the Assad regime. Pentagon planners are also concerned that the first wave of strikes hit relatively easy targets and that, as ISIL starts to adapt, the next rounds will become more complicated. Overshadowing these questions, observers are also divided about how committed Obama is to the conflict against ISIL. Some see him much more engaged in the anti-Ebola initiative. On other topics, Washington remains committed to keeping pressure on Moscow over Ukraine. A flurry of G7 statements was issued with the deliberate intention of signaling to Moscow that the G8 was no longer intact. With regard to North Korea, some intriguing speculation is underway in Washington about the reasons behind the extended non-appearance of Kim Jung-eun. Pacific Command is also becoming involved in the anti-ISIL fight, but its deployments bring home the worrying fact that, despite all the Middle East-related headlines, the ongoing tension between Washington and Beijing over the South China Sea is playing out in the background.

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