Sunday, December 15, 2013

'Premature conclusions'

'Secretary of State Kerry continues to direct his priorities to Iran and the Middle East Peace Process. Some senior figures in the foreign policy community believe that he should be paying more attention to China and general East Asian issues, but officials close to Kerry speak confidently of the progress they feel they are making over Iran. After determined lobbying by the White House and State Department, it appears that both the Senate and House will postpone action on new sanctions against Iran, at least until the new year and most likely for the full six months of the follow up negations with Tehran to secure a final agreement. In the meantime, enforcement by the US Treasury of existing sanctions continues, with US corporations hoping to trade with Iran being warned not to draw premature conclusions. With regard to the peace process, despite Kerry’s further meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, much less optimism exists among State Department officials. They see Kerry’s engagement in this issue as the necessary complement to the Iran track, but very much doubt whether much progress will be made. In contrast to the cautious optimism being felt on Iran, Administration officials are deeply concerned over Syria. In the light of intelligence warnings about the shortcomings of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, there has been little surprise about the advances being made by the more militant Islamist groups. Nonetheless, US policy now faces an urgent dilemma over how to configure the Geneva II conference scheduled for January 22nd.  Action there may further complicate relations with Moscow – which are already being strained by events in Ukraine where, once again, the Administration sees President Putin as acting with a heavy hand. Turning to Asia, where Kerry is currently visiting, the familiar conflicting pulls in US policy – exemplified in the recent near collision between US and Chinese naval vessels in the South China Sea –   remain on display. At next week’s round of the US-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade in Beijing, US officials will be aiming at further relaxations on US-China trade and investment, but will also be contending with pressures on currency and visas for US journalists. The fact that both Beijing and Washington share a joint interest in calming the current uncertainty in North Korea will help ease differences on other aspects.'

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