Washington Policy Weekly

 I. Congress

1) Legislation

Reps. Wilson and Gonzales Recognize Anniversary of Syrian Revolution. On March 15, Reps. Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) and Vicente Gonzales (D-Texas) introduced a resolution to recognize the anniversary of the Syrian revolution of March 15, 2011. The proposed resolution also calls on the United States government to help the Syrian people establish a democratic system in Syria. The anniversary was also recognized by Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois) and Brendan Boyle (D-Pennsylvania), both members of the Syria Caucus in the House.

Rep. Issa Proposes Prohibition of Importation of Iranian Oil and Termination of Sanctions Waivers. On March 17, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) proposed legislation (H.R.7129) to prohibit the importation of oil from Iran. Text of the legislation was not available as of this writing. There are no cosponsors. On March 18, Rep Issa also introduced another piece of legislation (H.R.7159) to terminate some sanctions waivers on Iran in relation to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Republicans in House Oppose Removing Terrorism Sanctions on Iran. On March 17, Rep. Jim Banks (R-Indiana) proposed H.Res.990 to oppose lifting terrorism sanctions on Iran and any restoration of the JCPOA so long as Iran is engaged in clandestine nuclear activities. The bill has 57 cosponsors, all Republican.

Rep. Perry Proposes Recognizing Somaliland an Independent Country. On March 18, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania) introduced legislation to the House Foreign Affairs Committee (H.R.7170) to recognize Somaliland, a state in federal Somalia, an independent country. The text of the bill is not yet available. Another state, Puntland, has also been trying to break away from Somalia.

Rep. Gottheimer Proposes Giving Israel “Bunker Buster” Munitions. On March 18, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-New Jersey) proposed H.R.7148 to help prepare Israel for the possibility of Iran’s seeking to acquire a nuclear weapon. Such preparation includes providing Israel with munitions and the aircraft and facilities needed to operate and deliver them. The bill was proposed to the HFAC and has Rep. Brian Mast (R-Florida) as cosponsor.

Rep. Levin Expresses Alarm about Displacement of Palestinians. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Michigan) expressed his alarm about “the potential forced displacement of more than 1,000 Palestinians” by Israel from the Masafer Yatta area in the occupied West Bank for the military purpose of establishing a firing zone. He called it an “inhumane” act and urged both the US government to oppose violations of Palestinian rights and his colleagues to condemn the potential evictions.

Sen. Marshall and Others Condition Lifting FTO Designation. On March 17, Senator Roger Marshall (R-Kansas) introduced S.3871 to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to allow Congress to control how the Secretary of State can lift the designation of Foreign Terrorist Organization. The bill has two cosponsors, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senator Thomas Tillis (R-North Carolina).

Sen. Risch Proposes Submission of Annual Reports on Somaliland. On March 17, Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) proposed S.3861 to require the Departments of State and Defense to submit annual reports on US assistance to Somaliland for the purpose of establishing a partnership with the region without recognizing its independence.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Menendez and Risch Commemorate the Syrian Uprising. Senators Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and SFRC Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-Idaho) issued a statement commemorating the Syrian uprising against the Syrian regime. They reminded the international community to hold the Syrian regime accountable and to refrain from normalizing with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

Malinowski, Others Want Monitoring of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey) and 11 other Democrats have sent a letter to the Comptroller General of the United States asking whether the State Department is doing due diligence when studying arms sales to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey (and Rwanda). The group of Democrats is worried about efforts by these countries to intimidate dissidents living inside the United States which is prohibited by Title 22 USC Section 2756 related to arms export licenses.

Democratic Jewish House Members Unanimous on Israel. All 25 Democratic Jewish members of the House of Representatives signed on to a letter condemning a contention by Amnesty International’s US Director Paul O’Brien that Jewish support for Israel in the United States is not as it is reported. The letter chastised O’Brien supposed “patronizing attempt to speak on behalf of the American Jewish community.”

On the other hand, The Jerusalem Post published on March 17 the results of a study conducted by the Ruderman Family Foundation’s Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa that found that 39 percent of American Jews believe that US “Democrats are becoming less supportive of Israel while Republicans are becoming increasingly supportive.”

Democratic House Members Join J Street Trip to Israel/Palestine. Jewish Insider reported on March 15 on a delegation of nine Democratic House members organized by J Street to Israel and Palestine. Members of the delegation were taken to Palestinian areas under Israeli occupation and later criticized Israeli and American administrations for failing to help a moderate Palestinian leadership that would work for peace in accordance with the two-state solution.

Oz Is Not Odd on Israel Among GOP Senate Candidates. Republican senatorial candidate from Pennsylvania Mehmet Oz issued a political memo in which he professed his pro-Israel credentials, saying that “Israel is a vital American ally and a vibrant democracy in the world’s most troubled region.” He also said that his opinion of Israel stems from his understanding of his Islamic faith.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

President Biden Signs Appropriations Act of 2022. On March 15, President Joe Biden signed the “Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022” that contains $1 billion funding for Israel’s Iron Dome and foreign assistance amounts for Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and others.

2) State Department

Blinken Honors Two Arab Women. On March 14, Secretary of State Antony Blinken honored two Arab women at the 16th International Women of Courage Awards Ceremony. They were Taif Sami Mohammed, Iraq’s Deputy Finance Minister, who was honored for her efforts to end corruption in Iraqi state institutions, and Najla Mangoush, Libya’s Foreign Minister, who works to build a more unified Libya and more democratic governance in her country.

Egypt to Get F-15s from the United States. On March 15, General Frank McKenzie, Commander of US Central Command, told the Senate’s Armed Services Committee that the United States will be selling F-15 aircraft to Egypt. He described the process of deciding to sell the planes as difficult. The decision is likely to generate congressional opposition because of Egypt’s poor human rights record.

Kerry to Travel to Qatar. The State Department announced that Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry will travel March 25-27 to Doha, Qatar, to participate in the Doha Forum and “discuss opportunities to advance security and prosperity by tackling the climate crisis.”

Blinken Increases Number of Visa Restrictions on Somalis. On March 16, Secretary Blinken expanded the number of Somalis with visa restrictions into the United States. The secretary’s action comes following a warning on February 8 against Somali politicians who impede the electoral and democratic process in the country.

Blinken Announces Additional Humanitarian Assistance for Yemen. Secretary Blinken announced that the United States has pledged an addition $585 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen as part of the “2022 High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen.” According to his statement, the United States has so far provided some $4.5 billion to the Yemeni people.

US Joins Others on Anniversary of Syrian Uprising. The United States joined France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom in issuing a statement on the 11th anniversary of the Syrian uprising on March 11, 2011. The statement called for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 that contained the principles for a peaceful political transition in Syria.

On the other hand, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield also issued a statement on March 15 commemorating the Syrian uprising and recognizing the killing of more than 350,000 people by the Assad regime.

Robinson Visits Beirut on Narcotics Mission. On March 14, Todd Robinson, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement at the State Department visited Beirut where he met with security officials to discuss internal security forces training and professionalization.

Blinken Calls Iraqi Prime Minister. The US Secretary of State condemned the Iranian attack on Irbil in Iraq’s Kurdistan as an assault on sovereignty. He emphasized Iraq’s need for a new and strong Iraqi government that would be able to protect its citizens and affirmed US commitment to holding Iran accountable. Blinken also called Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the Iraqi Kurdistan region for the same purpose.

Senior Advisor for Special Political Affairs Comments on Libya. Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, Senior Special Advisor to the US mission to the United nations, emphasized Libyans’ desire for an election, highlighting the fact that close to three million of them registered to vote. He further urged Libya’s House of Representatives and High Council of State to take part in the plan proposed by the UN Special Envoy to Libya Stephanie Williams.

3) Defense Department

US, Algeria Hold 10th Military Dialogue. The United States and Algeria held their tenth Military Dialogue March 14 and 15 where discussion focused on regional conflict and security and on “strengthening bilateral defense cooperation.” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Chidi Blyden represented the United States and General Kais Djenidi represented Algeria in the dialogue.