The Senate was in session last week, while the House of Representatives (“the House”) remained in recess in observance of the Martin Luther King holiday. Implementation Day of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran took effect, as did a prisoner swap last week. Washington’s attention then quickly shifted to an impending historic blizzard that dropped about two feet of snow on the region over the weekend, bringing the city to a standstill and keeping the federal government closed on Monday. Both chambers of Congress are expected to reconvene on Tuesday.
Iran – Implementation Day. On 16 January, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its report verifying that Iran has fulfilled its obligations under the JCPOA, triggering Implementation Day and the lifting of some sanctions. President Obama addressed the nation the next day, explaining why it is important to move forward with the terms of the JCPOA. That same day, the Treasury Department announced the imposition of new sanctions on 11 individuals and entities allegedly involved in ballistic missile procurement for Iran. On Tuesday, the House is scheduled vote again on H.R. 3662, a bill that would block the Obama Administration from lifting sanctions against certain individuals or banks without certification that they do not support terrorism, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or Iran’s alleged proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Russia/Ukraine. Vice President Biden met Thursday with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko on the margins of the World Economic Forum in Davos, with the two leaders agreeing on the critical importance of the continued implementation of Minsk by all sides of the Ukraine conflict. In a speech to the Forum, Secretary Kerry said, “I believe that, with effort and with bona-fide legitimate intent to solve the problem on both sides, it is possible in these next months to find those Minsk agreements implemented and to get to a place where sanctions can be appropriately, because of the full implementation, removed.” His optimistic statement sharply contrasts with the Administration’s December imposition of new sanctions, which were viewed as ensuring sanctions were not being circumvented and sending a message to Russia that it must takes the steps necessary to comply with its obligations under the Minsk Agreements.
TPP Developments. New Zealand announced last week that it will host the TPP signing ceremony on 4 February in Auckland. New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay said, “Signature will mark the end of the TPP negotiating process.” U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told the press last Wednesday that the Administration is looking to address congressional and business industry concerns related to the TPP deal through implementation plans and the way the agreement is enforced.
Customs Bill – Senate Votes Secured? After increased uncertainty over whether there existed enough votes to overcome Senator Richard Durbin’s (D-Illinois) objections in order to pass the reconciled customs bill, Politico reported last Thursday that an aide to Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) confirmed 60 votes has been obtained to invoke cloture and/or block any point of order by Senator Durbin.
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