Last week, the Malaysian Government negotiated and secured from the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine the black boxes from the downed passenger airliner (MH17). The Malaysian Government also secured the release of the 298 bodies. The Dutch are leading the investigation on the ground in Ukraine, but have reported difficulty in gaining access to the crash site.
President Barack Obama signed a condolence book at the Dutch Embassy in Washington last Tuesday and spoke with Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands. Both leaders expressed concern about further evidence that Russia is continuing to send weapons and fighers across the border to support the separatists. Two Ukraine fighter jets (Su-25) were shot down last week, reportedly by surface-to-air missiles that Kyiv claims came from Russian territory. Last Thursday, the Pentagon confirmed Russian forces have been shelling targets in Ukraine for days. As fighting continued in eastern Ukraine, the EU met that day to consider new sanctions against Russia; announcing it was expanding its sanctions list to include 15 individuals and 18 entities late Friday. The EU will meet this Tuesday to consider a proposal of tougher sanctions (“the third round”) against Russia.
This Tuesday, July 29, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Ambassador John Tefft to be the new U.S. Ambassador to Russia. The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittees on Europe and Terrorism will hold a joint hearing this Tuesday on the MH17 tragedy and the escalating crisis in Ukraine. Citing a breakdown in the coalition government, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and his Cabinet announced their resignation last Thursday. They will remain in place until elections in October.
In light of the climbing death toll, President Obama dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to Cairo and Israel to try to negotiate a ceasefire agreement. To protect U.S. citizens, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned U.S. flights to and from Tel Aviv after a rocket landed near the Ben Gurion International Airport. The ban was lifted Thursday, after 36 hours and at the urging of the Israeli Government. The U.N. Human Rights Council – comprised of 47 member states – voted last Wednesday on a resolution condemning the Israeli military operations in Gaza. The United States registered the only vote in opposition, with 29 member countries voting for the resolution. The remaining member countries – including those EU countries on the Council – chose instead to abstain. The State Department said the United States did not support the language in the resolution, which it characterized as one-sided.
Last Thursday, Kurdish politician Fouad Massoum was named the new President of Iraq following a parliamentary vote. Also Thursday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) threated to block U.S. arms sales to Iraq if Congress does not get an assessment of Iraqi forces and assurances the weapons will not fall into the hands of Islamist extremists.
On Tuesday, July 29, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the status of the P5+1 Talks with Iran. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen are scheduled to testify. The House Foreign Affairs Committee will similarly hold a hearing the same day.
Last week, President Obama’s Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Chief of Staff, Peter Altmaier, met in Berlin, Germany, to discuss bilateral relations, including intelligence and security matters. The Chiefs of Staff agreed to establish a Structured Dialogue to address their respective country’s security-related concerns and challenges.
Thursday, an Air Algerie passenger airliner (AH5017) with 110 on board – of which 51 are French citizens – crashed in Mali en route to Algeria from Burkina Faso. French military forces in the region assisted with locating the crash site.
Also Thursday, Sudanese-American Meriam Ibrahim arrived in Italy. Mrs. Ibrahim was detained and sentenced to death in Sudan on charges of apostasy. Secretary Kerry welcomed the news of Mrs. Ibrahim’s release and praised the Italian Government for its role in her release.
Today, July 28, Secretary Kerry will release the State Department’s annual Report on International Religious Freedom.
In advance of the upcoming U.S.-African Leaders Summit (August 5-6), the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways & Means Trade Subcommittee are scheduled to hold separate hearings this week evaluating the status of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
On Wednesday, Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Wendy Cutler claimed that other Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries have begun to show more flexibility on outstanding rules issues in the 12-party negotiations as a result of progress on market access talks with Japan. Cutler also said that USTR can conclude the TPP negotiations without Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), arguing that bringing home a strong TPP agreement will help make the case for approval of TPA by Congress. Her remarks come on the heels of a letter sent to Amb. Michael Froman last week by all Republican members of the Ways and Means Committee, in which the Members warn they would not support a TPP deal prior to congressional passage of TPA.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) said he has finished drafting a bill to reauthorize the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank. The Senator is consulting with the Senate Democratic leadership – which is apparently talking with the House Republican leadership on how to move forward with Ex-Im reauthorization – before introducing the bill.