Conflict & Justice

Talking Peace: This week in diplomatic negotiations


Furloughed federal workers chant and shout as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and fellow House Republicans hold a news conference on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol October 2, 2013 in Washington, DC. Over the chants of the demonstrators, Cantor called on Senate Democrats and the White House to support legislation that will restore funding to national parks, medical research, veterans and the District of Columbia during the partial shutdown of the federal government. Democrats have rejected this piecemeal approach to funding during the first federal shutdown in 17 years.


Chip Somodevilla

As the United States government settles into day two of its first shutdown in 17 years, some of the biggest ongoing international conflicts are seeing diplomatic progress following last week’s United Nations General Assembly. Diplomats around the world are now meeting about strategies, possible outcomes and potential solutions for issues surrounding Syria and Iran, as the US tries to find its way out of a congressional lock, as three of its diplomats were kicked out of Venezuela.

Here’s what to keep an eye on:


Two days into the first partial government shutdown in 17 years, Congress has not moved any closer to a resolution.

President Obama this afternoon called the highest four congressional leaders to the White House for a meeting in which he will urge the House to “pass a stopgap funding bill to reopen the government, and ask Congress to raise the debt ceiling ahead of an Oct. 17 deadline,” according to USA Today.

"What the president is asking Republicans in the House to do is quite literally the least they could do. He's asking them to extend funding at the levels set in the previous fiscal year to keep the government open," said Jay Carney, White House spokesman, explaining that the President’s request attaches “no partisan strings.”

But Republicans are still looking for a negotiation.

"It's unclear why we'd be having this meeting if it's not meant to be a start to serious talks between the two parties," Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) this morning sent a letter to Boehner, which urged him to pass the Senate’s stopgap funding measure. In return, the letter said, Reid would commit to appointing senators to a conference committee to address other budget issues.

"This conference would be an appropriate place to have those discussions," Reid wrote.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, responded to Reid’s letter with more finger-pointing, saying "the entire government is shut down right now because Washington Democrats refuse to even talk about fairness for all Americans under Obamacare. Offering to negotiate only after Democrats get everything they want is not much of an offer."

House Republicans are now proceeding with a legislative approach attempting to push forth piecemeal funding bills, which would reopen popular sectors of the federal government including parks, national memorials and the Department of Veterans Affairs until a more long-term budget agreement can be reached. Still, republicans “continue to seek concessions on the Affordable Care Act in exchange for passage of the funding bill.”

Leading up to the October 17 deadline to raise the debt ceiling, Financial Services Forum Chairman Lloyd Blankfein issued a statement urging a quick resolution to the debt ceiling increase.

"While the current government shutdown is unfortunate, the impacts of a debt default would be magnitudes worse and should not even be considered a viable option," he said, "The economic damage associated with default or near-default would be severe and have serious consequences for the recovery of the US and global economy."


Despite not having met face to face, or even sharing a handshake, at the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani are moving toward diplomatic negotiations—the first between the two countries since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

The two presidents spoke on Friday when Obama called Rouhani over the telephone, while the Iranian president was en route to the airport.

According to Huffington Post, both “expressed their determination to rapidly reach an agreement on nuclear negotiations, while also addressing other issues including regional security and American prisoners in Iran.”

The proxy conversation, which took place mostly through translators, ended after Rouhani said directly to Obama “have a nice day, “ in English, to which Obama responded with “Thank you. Khodahafez.”

Secretary of State John Kerry also met with Iranian officials, on Thursday speaking with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and other UN P5+1 members—the first of such high-level meetings since the revolution—and rapidly scheduled dates for future negotiations to take place in meetings October 15 and 16 in Geneva.

Following these “productive steps,” Rouhani on Friday began negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency over how to restart stalled nuclear investigations.


After two weeks of infighting, the Christian Science Monitor reported, the UN Security Council passed a resolution late last week.

The resolution authorizes teams working in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to start locating and destroying the estimated 1,000 tons of chemical munitions amassed by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Moscow daily publication Kommersant on Monday that he was “pleased that the disarmament project was unanimously adopted by the Security Council after the US and France abandoned last-ditch efforts to have a ‘use of force’ option embedded in the resolution.”

Peace negotiations set for mid-November, however, may not see as much “progress.” Western and Arab countries charged with bringing the Syrian opposition to the negotiating table have been unable to do so thus far, as opposition groups continue to fracture on the ground and express disapproval over the “political oppositions” consideration of negotiations.

Russian experts, according to the Monitor, said that if “Western powers are serious about promoting a negotiated peace, they must first abandon the illusion that the growing body of jihadist-linked Syrian rebels can ever unify behind a democratic and secular program for the country.”


Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said “Yankees, go home!” when he announced on Monday that he is expelling three US diplomats who have been accused of “plotting to sabotage the economy,” the BBC reported.

The president gave Kelly Keiderling, the charge d’affaires, David Moo and Elizabeth Hoffman 48 hours to leave the country.

Maduro said he has evidence that the diplomats participated in a September “power-grid sabotage” and bribed Venezuelan companies to decrease production.

Tension is not new between the US and Venezuela—the two have not had ambassadors in each other's capitals since 2010.

``We completely reject the Venezuelan government's allegations of US government involvement in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuela government,'' the embassy said in a statement, going on to say that the embassy had not yet received official notification of expulsion.