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Washington’s World: May 23rd, 2016 – May 29th, 2016

During President Obama’s trip to Japan and Vietnam next week, the unspoken item at the top of the agenda will be China. As an NSC official mentioned privately to us: “Although we maintain an active security dialogue with the Chinese, we are still unsure of what China’s ultimate objectives in the South China Sea are. Our conversations with our allies and friends in the region are therefore all designed to address a number of potential contingencies. We have no wish to antagonize Beijing, but neither do we wish to be caught unprepared.” With Japan long established as a solid US ally and sharing US perceptions of the regional challenges, the visit to Vietnam is where new ground is more likely to be broken. Despite shortcomings on democratic governance and human rights, US strategists are seeking to include Hanoi in the circle of US partners in the region on which Washington can call if relations with Beijing suffer a major deterioration. Obama will put this process in motion. Obama will also underline the case in favor of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), although this is increasingly controversial in terms of the presidential campaign. In the Middle East, the loss of the EgyptAir aircraft (under hitherto unexplained circumstances) has once again raised the specter of aviation terrorism. While the anti-ISIL coalition is growing in confidence that it has put the Islamic State on the defensive, Intelligence Community officials are deeply concerned that, in order to compensate, it may expand its terrorist attacks. Consultations with NATO are aimed at expanding cooperation to counter this threat. A particular focus is deeper engagement in Libya. Here Administration analysts see an opportunity in the growing authority of the internationally-backed Government of National Accord, which they see as having the potential successfully to confront the Islamic State presence in the country. In a week when the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement has been marked, a number of proposals for territorial reapportionment have been aired for both Syria and Iraq. From our conversations with US officials, we do not believe any of these is being taken seriously.

Key Judgments

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