Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

1) Legislation

Republican Senators Introduce Bill Regarding US Arms Used by Terrorists. On February 16, 12 Republican senators, led by Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota), introduced a bill (S.3657) requiring the Director of National Intelligence to report to Congress within 30 days on incidents involving the use of abandoned US military equipment in terrorist attacks. The bill concerns equipment deployed in Afghanistan, where Thune and his colleagues say the Taliban gained American arms after the US withdrawal in August 2021, and in Syria and Iraq.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Democratic Senators Oppose Designating the Houthis a Terrorist Organization. A group of 12 Democratic and Independent senators, led by Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut)—who serves as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism—wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing their opposition to designating Yemen’s Houthis a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The senators reasoned that if the Houthis were to be so designated, suppliers of needed food and other critical materials would be disallowed from making deliveries to Yemenis in insurgent areas.

Democratic and Republican Delegations Travel to Israel. A Democratic House delegation of 14 members of Congress, led by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), traveled on an American Israel Public Affairs Committee-funded trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories during February 19-26 and held meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and civil society organizations. These included Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid, and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh. A similar Republican delegation of about 24 members—led by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California)—also traveled to Israel on February 21 where they met with Bennett, Lapid, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and other Israeli leaders.

II. Executive Branch 

1) White House  

President Biden Extends National Emergency for Libya. On February 22, President Joe Biden extended the national emergency with respect to Libya beyond February 25, 2022. The emergency was first declared in “Executive Order 13566 of February 25, 2011, and expanded in Executive Order 13726 of April 19, 2016.”

2) State Department

State Department Imposes Visa Restrictions on Somalis Delaying Elections. Secretary of State Blinken imposed visa restrictions on February 25 on Somali politicians responsible for delaying the democratic process in Somalia. On February 8, the secretary had threatened to impose these restrictions if no progress was made on filling vacant seats in the National Consultative Council by February 25.

Deputy Secretary Sherman Talks to Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke by phone with Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Elkhereiji about the Russian military invasion of Ukraine and the importance of preserving Ukraine’s sovereignty. It is noteworthy that the Biden Administration has been trying to secure energy supplies to Europe to make up for lost Russian shipments after the United States imposed sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine.

DoS Approves Military Sale to Kuwait. The State Department approved a military sale to Kuwait worth $1 billion. It will be used to design and construct the country’s defense ministry headquarters complex.

Thomas-Greenfield Meets with Iraqi Foreign Minister. On February 23, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield met with Iraq’s Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein to discuss democracy in Iraq. The ambassador emphasized that it is important to form a new government for the country and protect human rights. Importantly, the meeting came as the UN Security Council unanimously ended the work of the United Nations Compensation Commission that oversaw compensating Kuwaiti claims following Iraq’s occupation of the country in 1990. By the United Nations’ calculations, Iraq paid over $52 billion in such reparations.

Blinken discusses Ukraine with UAE Foreign Minister. On February 24, Secretary Blinken spoke by phone with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan to discuss the Russian invasion and violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. The UAE is a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council and the conversation focused on the small country’s position regarding the invasion. But on February 26, the UAE joined India and China in abstaining from condemning Russia, while the latter vetoed the resolution as a permanent member of the world body.

Nides Will Not Visit Israeli Settlements. The US ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides, is reported to have said in an interview that he will not visit any Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. This is a departure from the previous ambassador, David Friedman, who supported settlements and facilitated their expansion under the Trump Administration.

Houthis Detain Another Sanaa Embassy Staffer. Yemeni officials and others have said that the Houthis detained a former press officer in the now-closed US embassy in Sanaa. The number of embassy staffers detained by the Houthis has risen to at least 11.

Thomas-Greenfield Protests Israel’s Non-Support. Axios reported that Ambassador to the United Nations Thomas-Greenfield registered a protest to Israel’s representative at the world organization, Gilad Erdan, regarding his country’s refusal to co-sponsor a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Israel refrained from announcing a clear position on the matter to maintain relations with both countries.

3) Defense Department

US Defense Contractor to Set up Surveillance in UAE. The Tawazun Economic Council, an Emirati government agency, has signed a contract with a US defense contractor in Abu Dhabi at the Unmanned System Exhibition and Conference. The contract is to build a surveillance center for the UAE’s armed forces that would feature L3Harris’s WESCAM MX imaging system and a data analysis center with Atlas Telecom.

US Navy to Launch Joint Drone Program in the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea. The US Fifth Fleet is planning to launch a joint drone program with allies in the Gulf region and the Red Sea to increase the capacity for monitoring trade activities. The project will have around 100 unmanned aerial vehicles by 2023 to protect against challenges to trade routes in the area.

CENTCOM Boosts US Force in Syria. US Central Command announced on February 18 that it is increasing the capacity of its forces in northeastern Syria by adding more Bradley Fighting Vehicles. This increase was likely decided after the so-called Islamic State attacked a prison holding IS detainees in Hasaka January 20-30, 2022.

4) Treasury Department

 Sanctions Placed on Houthi-Supporting Smuggling Network. On February 23, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on a network of individuals and companies involved in financing Yemen’s Houthis. Financier Sa’id al-Jamal and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force are accused by the Treasury Department of transferring money to the Houthis to fund their attacks in Yemen and against neighboring countries.