The Swoop: Washington’s World * May 2nd – May 8th, 2011

The Swoop: Washington’s World * May 2nd – May 8th, 2011
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“Over the coming weeks, US foreign policy attention will be focused on the Middle East. Here, the way ahead in the maze of conflicting pressures is not becoming any easier to discern.

On the Middle East peace process, the announcement of a rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas has been greeted with caution in Washington. When Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addresses Congress later on May 22nd, US officials expect him to take a hard line against any accommodation with Hamas as well as to possible recognition of a Palestine state at the UN General Assembly in September.

With Republicans rallying firmly to this position, President Obama’s freedom of maneuver is limited. As we have reported, a speech addressing the peace process is in draft, but we do not expect Obama to risk much if any political capital on this issue. In parallel, he faces political pressure to take a firmer line against Syria.

The Administration’s cautious response is being contrasted to the ongoing military actions in Libya. State Department officials have sought to reconcile the two positions, but we see little possibility that the Administration’s actions will go beyond tougher economic sanctions. On Libya, Pentagon officials tell us privately that their assessment is that the war is headed toward a stalemate.

They are also receiving private reports of atrocities committed against black African members of Libyan government forces.

For the moment, however, the State Department is leading policy on Libya, with Secretary of State Clinton due to make the case for sustained engagement at the May 4th-6th meeting of the Libya contact group.

Outside the Middle East, the crucial relationship to monitor is that with China. The latest human rights dialogue held in Beijing was unproductive. The next meeting of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue is due to take place in Washington from May 9th-10th and will bring new tensions to light on currency issues. As one NSC official commented to us: “This is not a happy relationship.”

Finally, the reshuffle of top national security appointments will not herald any drastic shifts in policy. One issue to watch is Pakistan where the changes at the Pentagon and CIA bring to the fore men who have had troubled relations with the Pakistan leadership.”