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Washington’s World: August 24th, 2015 – August 30th, 2015

With President Obama on vacation and the Congress in recess, the foreign policy debate in Washington has slowed. The one exception is discussion concerning the Iran nuclear deal. It is now clear that no Republican Senators will support the Administration. The same is true in the House. On the other hand, Administration officials find reassurance in the fact that they will assemble sufficient votes to override Obama’s promised veto of any negative vote disapproving the deal. The consensus among political observers remains therefore that the deal will survive – albeit by a tight margin. Although State Department officials strenuously insist that the Iran deal covers only nuclear issues, privately they do hope that this opens the possibility of less adversarial approaches on other regional problems, most notably the struggle against the Islamic State and with regard to Yemen. Despite the recent killing of a top IS commander, coalition operations against the IS are proceeding very slowly. Preparations for the recapture of Ramadi continue, but there is little sign of a decisive breakthrough. Relations with Turkey are particularly contentious, with US officials, most notably Defense Secretary Carter voicing public criticism of Turkish efforts to seal its borders against IS infiltration. Privately, they are concerned that Turkish electoral politics are more important drivers for Ankara’s calculations than the opposition to IS. In Asia, Intelligence Community officials to whom we have spoken are carefully watching the new tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but do not at this stage think they are likely to spiral out of control. China remains more problematic. With the selloff on global stock markets attributed in part to rising concerns about the Chinese economy, analysts are once again asking strategic questions about how relations between Beijing and Washington will evolve. The Pentagon is reviving concern about Chinese reclamation projects in the South China Sea and White House planners are worried about the harsh Chinese criticism of Prime Minister Abe's speech on the 70th Anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific. One official mentioned to us: “distracted as we are in the Middle East, the auguries in East Asia are moving against us without our being able to influence developments to our liking.”

Key Judgments

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