Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

1) Personnel

Speaker Pelosi Leads Congressional Delegation to Israel. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) led a delegation of seven committee and subcommittee Democratic leaders to Israel and Palestine where they met leaders and civil society actors. The delegation held meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Discussions focused on ways to advance the two-state solution that the Biden Administration supports.

In a speech at the Israeli Knesset, Pelosi said that the creation of Israel was the “greatest political achievement of the 20th century” and pledged “ironclad” American commitment to Israel’s security. The Jerusalem Post reported that President Abbas told Pelosi that Israel must end the expulsions of Palestinians from Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and must respect the current status of the Haram al-Sharif.

The delegation included Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California), who is considered a member of the progressive bloc in the House. He met with students from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and tweeted that Israel must remove the checkpoints it maintains in the West Bank but keep them on the border with Israel.

Senator Graham Proposes Mutual Defense Agreement with Israel. On February 14, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) visited Israel and met high-level officials. He proposed a mutual defense agreement with Israel that would act as a deterrent to Iran. However, he was careful to state that the agreement would be limited to those circumstances involving “existential threats to the Jewish state.”

House Republicans Write to Biden Rejecting Deal with Iran. Following a similar move by 33 Republican senators a week before, 165 House Republican members wrote to President Biden demanding that any nuclear agreement with Iran be submitted to the Senate for adoption as a treaty of the United States. They added that not meeting this demand would mean that all such agreements would not be binding on the United States in the future, should Republicans regain power in Washington.

Malinowski and Connolly Write to Treasury about UAE Money Laundering. Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey) and Gerry Connolly (D-Virginia) wrote a letter on February 16 to Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo urging his department to place the United Arab Emirates under scrutiny because of increased evidence of financial wrongdoing and money laundering in Dubai. They urged the department’s Financial Action Task Force to work toward shutting down the illicit activities that the emirate hosts and that involve actors from Afghanistan, Russia, Europe, Iran, and African countries.

Bowman Withdraws Support for “Normalization Act.” Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-New York) withdrew his support for the “Israel Relations Normalization Act” that asks the State Department to encourage normalization between Arab countries and Israel. His decision came despite overwhelming bipartisan support for the legislation and showed a split in the Democratic Party between supporters of the Abraham Accords and progressives calling for addressing the rights of the Palestinians.

2) Nominations

General Kurilla’s Nomination to Lead CENTCOM Advances in SASC. On February 15, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved the nomination of Lieutenant General Michael E. Kurilla—commander of the 82nd Airborne Division of the US Army—to be commander of US Central Command, to replace current leader General Frank McKenzie. The nomination now goes to the full Senate.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House  

McGurk Travels to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Brett McGurk, coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, traveled to the two Gulf countries to reiterate the United States’ commitment to their defense against Iran-supported missile and drone attacks. In Saudi Arabia, he discussed possible collaboration to manage market pressures that would result if Russia invades Ukraine.

Biden Administration Speaks with Syrian Government Regarding Kamalmaz. On February 17, Al-Monitor reported that the family of an American clinical psychologist detained in Syria, Majd Kamalmaz, is pressuring the Biden Administration to arrange for his release by working out a deal with the Syrian government. Kamalmaz was apprehended at a government checkpoint near Damascus while visiting relatives in February 2017. The report also mentions that the US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens had negotiated for his release during the Trump Administration but failed when the Syrian government demanded conditions that could not be met at the time.

2) State Department

Biden Administration Asks Israel to Ease Up on Sheikh Jarrah. Axios reported that the Biden Administration has asked the Israeli government to de-escalate in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. This is after occupation authorities increased pressure on Palestinian neighborhood residents, arrested activists, and demolished homes.

Blinken Speaks with UN Special Envoy for Yemen. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on February 17 with UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg to express American concerns about civilian casualties in Yemen and to condemn the attacks by all parties. Blinken expressed his support for UN efforts to devise a political process for peace in the country.

Lenderking Reiterates US Commitment to Yemeni Peace Process. On February 14, US Special Envoy for Yemen Timothy Lenderking addressed a conference on Yemen held by Arab Center Washington DC, the Doha-based Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies, and Deep Root Consulting. Lenderking stressed that the United States does not believe that there is a military solution to the conflict in Yemen and that only diplomatic efforts and compromises on all sides of the conflict will bring peace to the country.

Senior Official for Public Diplomacy to Visit UAE. Jennifer Hall Godfrey, Senior Official for Diplomacy and Public Affairs, was scheduled to travel to the UAE on February 20 to visit the USA Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.

Blinken Speaks with Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs. Secretary Blinken had a telephone conversation on February 16 with Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani. Blinken also met Al Thani on February 18 at the Munich Security Conference. The two discussed international and bilateral issues including Ukrainian-Russian tensions. Blinken reiterated American appreciation for Qatar’s continued effort to assist in Afghanistan-related issues.

Satterfield Visits Sudan. US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa David Satterfield visited Sudan on February 17 to meet with military and civilian leaders and discuss ways for Sudan to return to the path of transition to democracy. Satterfield also visited the country in January, with Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee, for similar discussions.

US Pressures Tunisia over Supreme Judicial Council Dissolution. In a statement on February 15, the US embassy in Tunisia said that US Deputy Assistant Secretaries Karen Sasahara and Christopher Le Mon met with Tunisian civil society activists to express concern about the decision by President Kais Saied to disband the Supreme Judicial Council.

The US embassy to Tunisia also announced on February 17 that the United States is launching a loan program worth $35 million to help small enterprises in Tunisia. The program will be implemented by the United States Agency for International Development, the US International Development Finance Corporation, and the Arab Tunisian Bank.

Kerry Travels to Egypt. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate and former Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Egypt February 20-21 where he delivered a speech at the American University in Cairo and met with Egyptian officials, including Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, to launch the US-Egypt Climate Working Group.

3) Defense Department

US Sends F-22 Fighter Jets to UAE. On February 12, the United States deployed F-22 fighter jets to the UAE to assist in the response to attacks by Yemen’s Houthis using drones and ballistic missiles. The fighter jets arrived at Abu Dhabi’s al-Dhafra Air Base, where approximately 2,000 US troops are stationed. On February 1st, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III had promised UAE leaders to deploy what he termed fifth-generation aircraft to help in the country’s defense.