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Washington’s World: April 21st – April 27th, 2014

As President Obama has made clear, confidence is strictly tempered that the agreement brokered by the US, EU, Russia and Ukraine to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine will hold. Nonetheless, it is indicative of how far the Administration will go to put this crisis behind it within a diplomatic context. Uncertainties over the implementation of the agreement have already prompted Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov to have further telephone discussions on the telephone. Our Administration contacts tell us that new sanctions are under preparation that would, as one senior official put it to us, “extract serious pain from the Russian financial sector”. The hope in Washington is that these can be avoided. One key reason is the importance of preserving a constructive Russian contribution to the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran. With signs of Iranian compliance on its undertakings to dilute its stockpile of fissile material, State Department officials have told us that their optimism that a deal can be reached by the late July deadline is rising. All concerned acknowledge that the deal will have to be 100% watertight to pass muster among a very skeptical audience on Capitol Hill. The Administration needs legislative changes if it is to reduce sanctions, so cannot afford to alienate Congress if it is to fulfill its side of any final agreement. With President Obama's visit to Asia now less than a week away, Washington’s focus will now turn Eastward. In preparation, Secretary of Defense Hagel has already visited China. In parallel he has held consultations with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts about regional security issues. White House advisers know that the visit will have to negotiate a thin line between assuring US allies in the region of continued US strategic engagement in the region and avoiding provoking a negative reaction in Beijing. As we have noted earlier, US success or otherwise in achieving this balance will have enormously important strategic implications. Prospects are uncertain. As one NSC official commented to us privately: “there is a wide range of opinion in Washington about China, including many who would not shy away from confrontation. That this will turn out well cannot be taken for granted.”   

Key Judgments

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