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Washington’s World: June 29th, 2015 – July 5th, 2015

As President Obama face a climactic and perilous final week on the Iran nuclear negotiations, he will be much fortified by two significant victories at the Supreme Court and a positive vote in Congress on Trade Promotion Authority. The former consolidates his legacy, especially on the health care reform which now appears safe from Republican attack – at least for the remander of his term in office. The latter allows him to take forward negotiations on the Transpacific Partnership. Although the vote on TPA was extremely tight and the part-ideological, part political hostility to TPP within the Democratic Party remains undiminished, quiet optimism is growing at the White House and Congress that, once the full TPP details are revealed and more time passes, a viable majority in favor of the deal will emerge in Congress. Some of the confidence arising from the brightening prospects for TPP played out in last week’s US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED). With both sides on their best behavior so as not to muddy the ground in advance of September’s State Visit by President Xi Jinping, the outcomes of the strategic tracks and the overall conclusions of the Dialogue were cast low-key diplomatic tones. However, the relatively harmonious atmosphere of the Dialogue has not survived long. The two contentious subjects between the two countries – China’s marine fortifications in the South China Sea and cyber hacking – have rapidly resurfaced. Top US Navy officers tell us privately that they have no intention of halting aggressive patrolling in the vicinity of the disputed islands. Returning to Iran, in advance of the expected announcement of an agreement, opposition is continuing to mount in Washington.  With Congress having voted itself a right to review the agreement, there is little doubt that the volume of debate will be high-decibel. On the assumption that the final deal closely follows the Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreed in April, White House and State Department officials tell us that they think the agreement will be defensible and they will ultimately prevail with the Congress. As events over Iran and the wider Middle East play out – where an upsurge in terrorist attacks has revived fears of an attack on the US homeland – US policy on Ukraine remains robust, but essentially defensive, focusing on deterring future moves by Moscow rather than on rolling back gains already made.

Key Judgments

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