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Washington’s World: April 27th, 2015 – May 2nd, 2015

With Japanese Prime Minister Abe due to visit Washington next week and legislation to give President Obama trade promotion authority now moving its way through Congress on the back of strong advocacy from the Administration, the foreign policy focus remains on Asia. Abe’s visit will be important in its own right as negotiators strive to put the finishing touches on the bilateral aspects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In a sign of the significance attached to the visit, Abe will address a joint session of Congress, the first Japanese Prime Minister to do so. Security in East Asia will also be a major topic, with a focus on North Korea and Japan’s growing naval capabilities in the region – a development very welcome to the US. A less explicit theme of the visit – but in many respects the most important one – will be both countries’ relations with China. US officials have noted Abe’s recent meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Indonesia, but believe that relations between Tokyo and Beijing remain wary and distrustful. This mirrors almost precisely Washington’s approach. As top officials prepare for the US-China summit in Washington in September, it is increasingly evident that, while the White House is aiming for as warm relations as possible with China, the points of mutual suspicion are multiplying. Given that a strong relation with Tokyo accords very well as a potential counter in the event of tensions with Beijing, Abe’s visit will be an important one. Remaining in Asia, the recent Chinese warning about North Korea’s increasing nuclear capability is playing into the debate about the ongoing negotiations with Iran to reach a final agreement by June 30th. Some officials fear that Tehran has an undisclosed backdoor to Pyongyang that would allow it to circumvent any agreement with the P5+1. Meanwhile, Administration officials are perplexed about Saudi Arabia's strategy with respect to the war in Yemen. Now that the US has assumed almost total responsibility for targeting, the White House is deeply concerned at the number of civilian casualties. It is pressuring Riyadh to institute a bombing pause to allow peace negotiations to restart. However, with the Saudis resistant to this advice, the Administration now fears that it is being dragged into another unwinnable Middle East war.

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