Saturday, October 5, 2013

"Vacating the stage!"

'With no immediate end in sight for the government shutdown, the impact on US national security policy is starting to cause some concern. High officials at the State and Defensedepartments are seeking to contain any lasting effects, but the cancelation of President Obama’s scheduled trip at the APEC summit together with the cancelation of  US participation in the second round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks with the European Union are drawing attention to some of the direct diplomatic costs. From conversations with senior officials, our understanding is that the decision to cancel was taken with extreme reluctance. As an NSC adviser told us: “Obama is losing the chance to interact with our Asian allies, give a boost to the TPP expansion negotiations and to discuss Iran and Syria with President Putin. Most of all, we are vacating the stage to the Chinese. This is the exact opposite of the message we want to send.”  Nonetheless, not all is gloom. Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Defense Hagel were able to reach some goals in their visits to Korea and Japan for the session of the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee. At the latter, agreement was reached to base US drones and new P-8 aircraft for surveillance missions over North Korea as well as V-22 Osprey helicopters for quick responise operations.  As the US “pivot” continues, US strategic planners are increasingly willing to talk about the underlying motivation in terms of competition with China. As officials explain US thinking to us, this does not imply that the endpoint will be necessarily adversarial. But it does mean that Pentagon planners are no longer giving China the benefit of the doubt. With regard to Iran, cautious optimism continues to prevail in Washington, although officials are at pains to stress that they will not tolerate time-wasting tactics by Tehran. However, assuming that concrete progress can be made at the forthcoming October 15th/16th talks in Geneva, the Adminsitration is ready to propose some easing of sanctions. Given that this requires Congressional approval – where anti-Iranian and pro-Israeli sentiment runs high – this will not be straightforward. Meanwhile, on Afghanistan talks about the status of the residual US military after 2014 are encountering difficulty on the issue of whether US troops can retain some scope for unilateral action. US negotiators hope to reach a compromise but, at a worst case, this could result in the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan.'

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