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Washington’s World: August 31st, 2015 – September 6th, 2015

Now that President Obama is back at the White House, a busy international agenda lies ahead. While domestic business, including a possible government shutdown, will predominate, two major visits – from Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pope Francis – will shape the month. Following the turmoil on the world’s stock markets and increasing evidence of a slowdown in the Chinese economy, the dynamics of Xi’s visit have shifted. Hitherto, US setbacks on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the difficulties being encountered on the US-led Transpacific Partnership (TPP) represented an awkward background for US interests at the summit. Now, China’s economic malaise and US anger over persistent Chinese cyber incursions have changed perceptions and led to a diminished reputation for China. Some of Republican presidential contenders have called on Obama to take a tough line or even to cancel the visit. The Administration rejects this approach and is seeking to highlight the positive aspects of the relationship between Washington and Beijing, but in private White House officials now expect to be able to pressure Xi more forcefully on divisive issues like the South China Sea, currency, human rights and cyber. One area on which some progress may be made is global climate change where both sides have committed to leadership roles in the run up to the UN Conference in Paris in November. By contrast, there is little meeting of minds on military matters where the Pentagon has recently issued a new strategy document to underpin the Administration’s “pivot” to Asia.  Elsewhere, the White House is engaged in a sustained campaign to win over the influential US Jewish community on the Iran deal. That is is having some success is shown by the continuing pick-up of Democratic support in the Senate. Even the most optimistic opponents of the deal now concede that the y will not have enough votes to pass a resolution condemning the deal, let alone to override a veto. They are now looking at alternative strategies to impose new sanctions on targeted Iranian government agencies. With regard to operations against the Islamic State, US officials are now putting more emphasis on the search for a political solution in Syria as a pathway to combating the IS ability to exploit the crisis there for recruitment purposes. A component of this is cooperation with Russia, a fact that relieves pressure on Moscow over Ukraine.

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