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Washington’s World: March 23rd, 2015 – March 29th, 2015

US foreign policy is not getting any easier – and in this case the problems are arising with allies rather than adversaries. The election victory of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was unwelcome in Washington. Although Secretary of State Kerry has conveyed congratulations to Netanyahu, the public expressions of concern by the White House more accurately reflect the Administration’s perceptions.  State Department contacts tell us they are less concerned about the impact on the peace process – which was already moribund – than on the nascent nuclear deal with Iran. At the very least the voices in Congress demanding Congressional review of an agreement will be much strengthened. Capitol Hill contacts tell us that Congressional leaders have taken great exception to Chief of Staff McDonough’s letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Corker intimating that the Administration may have any agreement confirmed by a UN Security Council Resolution before the issue comes to Congress. Turning to Europe, there are two sources of tension with the European allies. In a public speech in Washington, the German foreign minister laid bare the sharp differences between Germany and the overwhelming majority of the US foreign policy community – with the notable exception of President Obama – over Ukraine. However, with the crisis in a relatively quiet period, this disagreement takes second place to the one over the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Based on concerns that the AIIB – which will be headquartered in Beijing – will devolve economic leadership in Asia on China, the US has strenuously and, to date, successfully sought to dissuade its Asian allies, notably Australia, South Korea and Japan, not to join the AIIB. The UK decision to join – which was greeted with unusually sharp criticism faulting the UK of “constant accommodation” with China – has now been followed by a number of leading European states and has prompted Australia to review its decision not to participate. As one senior US diplomat commented privately to us: “we are looking very exposed on this. Our allies are choosing Beijing over us.” Returning to the Middle East, with US military commanders reporting steady progress against IS, State Department planners are beginning to think tentatively about a post-IS landscape. The first order of business would be Syria. Here, remarks from Kerry about a possible role for President Assad and/or his associates in a diplomatic settlement are already proving controversial, not least in Riyadh and Ankara where Washington is facing unsettled conditions on separate issues. Our Administration contacts assure us, however, that serious thought on these lines is underway – and indeed that some preliminary feelers with regime representatives in Damascus may already have taken place.

Key Judgments

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