A consensus is emerging among Washington experts that the current draft legislation in the US Congress to expand sanctions against Russia should—and could—be refined to avoid a number of potential unintended consequences.

In a panel discussion at the Atlantic Council on July 19, Daniel Fried, who as the State Department’s coordinator for sanctions policy in the Obama administration led the US sanctions effort against Russia, argued: “I think the legislation is more or less a good thing. If I could, I would make modifications based in part on some of the observations I’ve heard from Americans and observations from the European Union. And I think there is more than enough room in this bill to do what the drafters and what the sponsors intended without weakening it, but also taking care of what I consider some legitimate, if rhetorically exaggerated, European concerns.”

The sanctions as written would have negative implications for US companies operating overseas, and for energy sector jobs at home, according to the panel’s participants, including Richard L. Morningstar, a former US ambassador to the European Union (EU) and special envoy for Eurasian energy, and Daniel Yergin, an energy expert and vice chairman of IHS Markit.

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Qatar crisis creates a headache for the United States

Nearly two months in, the diplomatic crisis between the Arab Gulf states is growing ever more complicated. The July 16 Washington Post report that cites unnamed US intelligence officials as claiming that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) precipitated the diplomatic row with Qatar by hacking Qatari state-run news outlets and attributing false statements to the tiny emirate’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, is, if true, troubling for several reasons.

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British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government began substantive negotiations to leave the European Union (EU) in Brussels this week, although nobody in Britain is yet clear about what outcome the country is actually seeking. With May’s government in disarray, and her Cabinet wracked with infighting and confusion over Brexit, there is even a growing belief in some quarters that the country could, and perhaps should, end up staying inside the EU.

Until very recently, even mentioning such a possibility was politically and socially taboo. Supporters of the Leave campaign, which won the June 2016 EU referendum by 52 percent to 48 percent, had intimidated most of the rest of the country into believing that the “will of the people” must be obeyed, and that no dissent or deviation would be tolerated.

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Journalists in Middle Eastern media outlets have been engaged in harsh mudslinging ever since Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and Bahrain (aka the quartet) severed diplomatic and economic relations with Qatar in June over Doha’s alleged support for the Islamic State (ISIS), al Qaeda, and Iranian-backed militias in numerous Arab states. Although some maintain that the move was long overdue, others argue that for Saudi Arabia to lead the charge was akin to the pot calling the kettle black and that Riyadh, more than any Arab capital, has promoted violent extremism across the Muslim world.

Based on the words and actions of the American diplomatic establishment and the Pentagon since the Qatar crisis erupted, it is clear that Washington plans to continue working closely with all Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states in the struggle against terrorism. Nonetheless, the US government’s mixed messages on the Qatar crisis have illustrated the multifaceted and complex nature of the common allegations against the gas-rich Arabian emirate.

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Lingering uncertainty regarding US support for NATO and burden-sharing among allies has raised questions as to the future of the NATO nuclear-sharing arrangement. While US President Donald J. Trump’s reaffirmation of the US commitment to Article 5, NATO’s mutual defense clause, may have temporarily placated allies, intense feelings of insecurity among the European allies remain. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, taking an unusually strong stance, gave voice to these sentiments: “The time in which [Europe] can rely fully on others—they are somewhat over.” With these remarks, Merkel offered her answer to a question that has been asked repeatedly since Trump was elected president of the United States: Can Europe count on its ally across the Atlantic to come to its defense when needed?

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Mixed messages from US President Donald J. Trump’s administration and an apparent belief in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that they have the ear of the White House have exacerbated the crisis between the United States’ Arab Gulf partners, according to Richard LeBaron, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

The crisis has exposed a rift between Trump and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. While Trump has been critical of Qatar—he initially appeared to take credit for the Saudi blockade against a country that houses a US military base—Tillerson has been actively seeking an end to the Saudi/Emirati-led blockade of Qatar.

“Certainly, it is not useful to be sending mixed messages, but it is equally not useful for the Saudis and the Emiratis to somehow convince themselves that they have the president’s support and, therefore, can ignore the whole foreign policy institutional apparatus in the United States, including the Defense Department, the State Department, and the intelligence agencies,” said LeBaron, a former US ambassador to Kuwait.

“Frankly, they need these agencies more than we need them. It would serve them well to avoid trying to exploit any perceived differences in Washington,” he said of the Saudis and Emiratis.

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In the wake of the recent WannaCry and Petya ransomware attacks, cyber warfare has once again made mainstream news headlines. With cyberattacks becoming increasingly common, it becomes important to understand the options the United States has in dealing with these kinds of attacks.

Petya, though in many ways similar to WannaCry and other ransomware attacks, appears to have been a thinly veiled act of sabotage directed at a specific nation: Ukraine. Organizations and individuals in other countries, some in the United States, were caught in the Petya crossfire. Although few US organizations were damaged by Petya, these attacks will likely continue, and the United States could be the next direct target. The United States has already suffered the consequences of directed cyber interference—in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election, a Russian cyberattack hit systems in thirty-nine US states.

Although the United States certainly could respond in kind to cyberattacks, it is important to ask: should it, and if so, how? The United States must weigh any cyber actions against the possible responses by the opposing party, as well as avoid setting dangerous precedents in a largely undefined theater of conflict.

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European finance ministers meeting in Brussels on July 11 endorsed a number of significant new policy initiatives in an attempt to accelerate the development of European capital markets over the next six months. These initiatives point to a policy priority that aims to strengthen European banks. 

While concerns regarding the United Kingdom’s expected departure from the European Union (EU) may accelerate the speed with which some of these reforms are implemented, Brexit is not the most important impetus for this week’s policy decisions. European policymakers are just as focused on two additional policy priorities: sparking an investment-led economic recovery and accelerating much-needed balance-sheet repair within the banking sector. 

As the recent report from the EuroGrowth Initiative indicated and as Bank of England Governor Mark Carney underscored, the current recovery lacks sufficient depth to deliver sustainable economic repair and momentum in Europe. Consumer spending needs to be augmented by significant investment in order to generate a more reliable foundation for economic growth in the near term. Success will require increased reliance on market-based funding mechanisms as well as on centralized European-level standards.

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Atlantic Council report recommends review of designation as part of an effort to energize ties

US President Donald J. Trump’s administration should conduct a long-overdue review of the designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, according to a new report from the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.

The Clinton administration designated Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993. US administrations have used the designation—not just in the case of Sudan—as a political tool.

“The question is: is that sensible in terms of Sudan,” asked Princeton Lyman, a former US special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan who serves on the Atlantic Council’s Sudan Task Force.

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Venezuela is undergoing a period of profound crisis. Protests occur on a daily basis in every major city in the country. Thousands of Venezuelans have fled in search of economic opportunities and stability. In response, the government has taken drastic measures, including proposing a rewrite of the constitution.

In a sign that the crisis may be worsening, the opposition has called for a referendum on July 16 on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution. This referendum comes two weeks before the government holds a vote to elect delegates to a special assembly that will be tasked with rewriting the constitution. Maduro has ordered all state employees to participate in the July 30 election, despite the fact that the constitution does not require Venezuelans to vote.

This is part of a pattern of Maduro demanding unconditional loyalty from government officials, oftentimes removing those who acknowledge a worsening situation. A wave of dismissals has disfigured Venezuela’s democracy—today it is barely recognizable.

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