Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Representatives Tlaib and Dingell Introduce Resolution Recognizing Arab American Heritage Month. On April 10, Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI), introduced H.Res.286, a resolution expressing support for the recognition of April as National Arab American Heritage Month (NAAHM). The resolution, if adopted, would recognize the month of April as a monthlong celebration of the heritage, culture, and contributions of Arab Americans in the United States. On March 31, President Biden, for the first time in US history, designated April 2023 as Arab American Heritage Month; the new resolution would make this designation permanent for future years.

Bipartisan Lawmakers Introduce Resolution Urging the EU to Designate the IRGC as a Terrorist Organization. On April 13, Representative Claudia Tenney (R-NY) led Representatives Katie Porter (D-CA), Tom Kean (R-NJ), and Brad Schneider (D-IL) in introducing H.Res.288, a resolution urging the European Union to expeditiously designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Representative Bowman and Senator Sanders Lead Progressive Letter to Biden Urging Response to Netanyahu Government. On April 13, Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) led a congressional letter with 12 Democratic cosigners to President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging a shift in US policy toward the far-right Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and its escalating violent treatment of Palestinians. In the letter, the lawmakers specifically call on the administration to ensure that US funding is not supporting Israeli settlement expansion and to examine whether US weapons are being used in human rights violations. The lawmakers asked the Biden administration to respond with a detailed plan on how it can ensure that future US assistance to Israel does not support gross human rights violations.

Senator Graham Meets with Saudi Crown Prince in Riyadh. On April 11, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) traveled to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). Senator Graham said that he had a “very productive” and “candid” meeting with MBS and his senior leadership team, stating that, “The opportunity to enhance the US-Saudi relationship is real and the reforms going on in Saudi Arabia are equally real.” Senator Graham, who promised a “bipartisan tsunami” after the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018—which MBS allegedly ordered—also said that he wants to work with the Biden administration and with both parties in Congress to take the US-Saudi relationship “to the next level.”

Senator Murphy Speaks about US-Tunisia Relationship, IMF Loan, President Saied’s Crackdown. On April 11, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s MENA Subcommittee, spoke about the US-Tunisia relationship, the Biden administration’s response to Tunisian President Kais Saied’s political crackdown, and recent negotiations between Tunisia and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $1.9 billion loan. Senator Murphy criticized the Biden administration’s “business as usual” approach to Tunisia, specifically regarding the recent Fiscal Year 2024 Budget, which maintains levels of military aid while cutting economic aid, which Murphy argued should be used to fund Tunisian civil society. Senator Murphy said that the Biden administration should reverse its Tunisia policy, putting money toward civil society initiatives and ending its support for the Tunisian military. On the IMF loan negotiations and fears that China will provide debt-financing if the West does not, Senator Murphy said that US-China economic competition should not be zero-sum, advocating against a “race to the bottom.” Finally, Senator Murphy called for the release of Tunisians who have been arrested for meeting with US officials.

Senator Menendez Welcomes New Sanctions on Lebanon’s Rahme Brothers. On April 7, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez (D-NJ) issued a statement welcoming the recently announced sanctions against Raymond and Teddy Zina Rahme, two Lebanese businessmen who used their political ties to engage in corruption and further their business activity. In his statement, Senator Menendez urged the Biden administration to be clear on its commitment to holding accountable those who undermine the rule of law in Lebanon.

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

Senior Biden Administration Officials Travel to Saudi Arabia to Support Conflict Resolution in Yemen. On April 13, National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Coordinator for Global Infrastructure and Energy Security Amos Hochstein, and Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking traveled to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to meet with senior officials to discuss peace efforts in Yemen. The US officials met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), as well as the Saudi ministers of energy, defense, and foreign affairs to discuss recent progress in Yemen. This visit follows a phone call between White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and MBS earlier in the week. On April 14, the State Department welcomed the release of 900 detainees from the Yemen conflict in prison swap. McGurk and Hochstein are the most senior White House officials to visit the kingdom since the Biden administration’s spat with Saudi Arabia in October.

Biden Administration Welcomes Restoration of Bahrain-Qatar Relations. On April 12, the White House and the State Department welcomed the recent restoration of diplomatic relations between Bahrain and Qatar. The rapprochement marks the end of a yearslong dispute between the two countries. In his statement, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan expressed that the United States is encouraged by the restoration of ties between two close partners, stating that it is an “important step towards establishing a more stable and prosperous Middle East region,” ensuring a now fully unified Gulf Cooperation Council, of which Bahrain and Qatar are key members.

National Security Advisor Sullivan Welcomes Progress in Iraqi Energy Sector. On April 7, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan welcomed recent progress in Iraq’s energy sector. The statement follows a historic agreement between the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to export oil through the Iraq-Turkey Pipeline, which will pave the way for both a multiyear budget that is currently before Iraq’s Council of Representatives and a hydrocarbons law. In his statement, Sullivan affirmed the United States’ support for these initiatives and for similar efforts that advance stability in the Middle East.

2) Department of State

Secretary Blinken and Congressional Leadership Call for Ceasefire in Sudan. On April 17, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for “an immediate ceasefire and a return to talks” amid an outbreak of violence in Sudan that has thus far resulted in 97 civilian deaths. Days before, fighting broke out between the forces of Sudanese Army General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan and the head of the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. The two generals were behind the 2021 military coup in Sudan, but tensions have since developed between them. Secretary Blinken has called on both men to stop the fighting, and on April 15, the chair and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY), also called for an immediate ceasefire and for the protection of civilians.

State Department Designates Hurras al-Din Leader. On April 11, the State Department announced that it is designating Sami Mahmud Mohammed al-Uraydi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist for his leadership in Hurras al-Din (HaD). HaD has been responsible for the killing and kidnapping of religious minorities in Syria and has incited violence against these groups. The designation will block all of al-Uraydi’s property and interests in property that are subject to US jurisdiction and will sanction any American or foreign persons that engage in transactions with him. The Department’s Rewards for Justice mission is also offering a reward of up to $5 million for information on the identification or location of al-Uraydi.

3) Department of Defense

Pentagon Leaks Include Information on Israel, Turkey, Jordan, UAE, Egypt, Iran. Last week, a 21-year-old US Air National Guardsman leaked hundreds of US defense and intelligence documents. The leaks included US intelligence revealing that Israel’s Mossad encouraged Israelis to protest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul and that Egypt had plans to send 40,000 rockets to Russia in February. The leaks also include intelligence about Turkey, the UAE, Jordan, and Iran.

Rocket Attack Targets Coalition Forces in Northeast Syria. On April 10, US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced that a rocket attack had targeted coalition forces at Mission Support Site Conoco in northeast Syria. According to the CENTCOM statement, the attack resulted in no injuries or damage to the base, and an additional rocket was found at the attack’s point of origin, near Deir Ezzor Province. The rocket attack follows the targeting of several US bases in Syria by Iranian-backed militias in March.

CENTCOM Captures Islamic State Attack Facilitator. On April 12, US Central Command announced that it had captured Hudayfah al-Yemeni, an attack facilitator belonging to the so-called Islamic State (IS), in a helicopter raid in eastern Syria on April 8. Al-Yemeni was captured alongside two of his associates, which is predicted to disrupt the organization’s ability to carry out operations. CENTCOM also announced that no civilians were killed or injured in the raid.

Department of Defense Announces Two Weapons Sales to Morocco. On April 11, the Department of Defense announced that the State Department has approved a potential $524.2 million sale of 18 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers, 40 M57 Army Tactical Missile Systems, and multiple rocket systems. The HIMARS systems will be the first in North Africa. The same day, the department also announced State Department approval of a potential $250 million sale of 40 Joint Stand Off Weapons to Morocco. Congress was notified of both potential sales, as is required by law.

US Navy Deploys Submarine to Deter Iran. On April 8, a United States Navy spokesperson announced that the Navy had deployed a guided missile submarine, the USS Florida, to the Middle East. The submarine was reportedly deployed to deter Iran and maintain the stability of one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and the move follows warnings from the United States Fifth Fleet advising all ships to proceed with caution in light of escalating tensions between Israel and Iran.

Under Secretary Kahl Meets with Israeli Defense Official. On April 13, the Department of Defense’s Under Secretary for Policy Colin Kahl met with Israeli Minister of Defense Director General Eyal Zamir at the Pentagon. The two officials discussed Iran, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the US-Israel defense relationship.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Department Announces Sanctions on UAE, Turkish Firms over Russian Sanctions Evasion. On April 12, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned 25 individuals and 29 entities involved in Russian sanctions evasion. The sanctions target Turkey-based industrial products firm Dexias, which has reportedly served as an intermediary for a Russian defense firm, and Azu International, which has supported the backfilling of electronics to Russia. In the UAE, the sanctions targeted an Emirati firm for its shipment of $190,000 worth of US-made semiconductors to Russia, as well as a second UAE-based firm that has sold Chinese drone technology to Russia. The same day, the State Department announced sanctions also targeting Russian sanctions evasion, including two firms in the UAE.