Weekly Briefing: March 21, 2016

Weekly Briefing: March 21, 2016

Obama tours the Americas and the German Foreign Minister visits Moscow to discuss Syria.

PRESIDENT OBAMA TOURS THE AMERICAS

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On Sunday, March 20 U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba for a state visit expected to last two days. The historic visit is the first time a sitting President has travelled to Cuba since Calvin Coolidge sailed into Havana aboard a U.S. warship in 1928.

The Presidential visit comes 15 months after the announcement of restored diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. Since then U.S. authorities have relaxed travel restrictions, introduced regulations to allow some trade with the Cuban government and eased restrictions on Cubans accessing U.S. financial institutions.

However, despite recent strides towards normalisation of relations, full economic ties are yet to be re-established and will not be for some time. The economic embargo on Cuba in force since 1960 is contained in statute and would require Congressional approval to be lifted, an unlikely development in an election year.

During his visit, President Obama is expected to hold bilateral meetings with President Raul Castro on Monday and address the Cuban people in a historic speech on Tuesday.

 

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From Cuba, President Obama will travel to Argentina for a two-day visit, where he will meet President Mauricio Macri. The South American powerhouse elected centre-right Macri in November 2015, ending the 12-year rule of the leftist Kirchner dynasty.

 

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS MOSCOW

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) speaks to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 13, 2016. REUTERS/Michael Dalder

On Wednesday, March 23 German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will be in Moscow to discuss a range of issues including the Syrian peace talks and the July 31 European Union vote on the future of sanctions on Russia.

On Thursday Germany’s Economy Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, called on the E.U. to move towards the lifting of Russian sanctions, imposed in relation to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

The convergence of the Russian announcement of troop drawdowns in Syria with the German announcement of its intention to back the lifting of sanctions on Moscow is unlikely to be a coincidence. The Kremlin is fully aware that finding a solution to the Syrian crisis will ease migrant-related pressure on Germany and France. This is a particularly sensitive topic as both Continental powerhouses face elections in the next 18 months, and both Mr Hollande and Mrs Merkel are lagging in the polls. Russia  and is likely using this as leverage to improve its own economic problems.

The Kremlin is fully aware that finding a solution to the Syrian crisis will ease migrant-related pressure on Germany and France. This is a particularly sensitive topic as both Continental powerhouses face elections in the next 18 months, and both Mr Hollande and Mrs Merkel are lagging in the polls. Therefore, Russia is likely using its clout in Syria as leverage to improve its economic situation without having to commit to a withdrawal in Ukraine.

 

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

SUNDAY, MARCH 20

Presidential elections take place in Benin, the Republic of Congo and Niger.

 

TUESDAY, MARCH 22

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits Moscow

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