Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Representative Dingell Introduces Resolution Recognizing Ramadan. On April 17, Representative Debbi Dingell (D-MI) introduced H.Res.299, a resolution recognizing the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The resolution would commend the month of fasting and spiritual renewal and seek to extend best wishes to Muslims in the United States and across the globe for their meaningful observance of Eid al-Fitr.

Bipartisan Lawmakers Introduce Resolution Honoring 75 Years of US-Israel Relations, the Abraham Accords. On April 20, Representatives Ann Wagner (R-MO), Michael McCaul (R-TX), Kathy Manning (D-NC), and Brad Schneider (D-IL) introduced H.Res.311, a resolution honoring the 75th anniversary of US-Israel relations and calling for the expansion and the strengthening of the Abraham Accords.

Representative Jackson Lee Introduces Resolution Condemning Iranian Schoolgirl Poisonings. On April 20, Representative Sheila Jackson lee (D-TX) introduced H.Res.310, a resolution condemning the Iranian governments inaction to address the poisoning of Iranian schoolgirls.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Leadership Condemns Violence in Sudan. On April 17, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Jim Risch (R-ID), released statements on recent violence between the Sudanese armed forces and the country’s Rapid Support Forces. Senator Menendez called for an “immediate halt” to the violence and called on parties in Sudan to follow through on the terms of a 2022 agreement for a transition to civilian rule. Senator Risch echoed Menendez’s calls to end the violence and to help facilitate the transition to a civilian-led democracy, and expressed that the United States needs a “fundamental shift” in its diplomacy to hold Sudanese officials accountable for human rights abuses, corruption, and other actions that have undermined the country’s democratic transition.

Speaker McCarthy to Address Israeli Knesset. In early May, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will address the Israeli Knesset during an upcoming trip to the country with 20 other lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). Speaker McCarthy’s address would make him the second speaker to address the Knesset, following former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s address in 1998.

Republican Lawmakers Express Concern About Earthquake Aid to Syria. On April l8, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Chairman of the committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia Joe Wilson (R-SC) released a statement in response to reports that Iran has used earthquake relief flights to bring weapons and military equipment to Syria. Iran has reportedly exploited the earthquake relief missions to transfer communications equipment and materials for Syria’s air defense system to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. In their statement, Representatives McCaul and Wilson urged the Biden administration to “explicitly define ‘earthquake relief’” under General License 23 to ensure its earthquake response does not benefit the Assad regime.

3) Hearings and Briefings

HFAC MENA Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Syrian War Crimes and Accountability. On April 18, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia held a hearing titled, “12 Years of Terror: Assad’s War Crimes and US Policy for Seeking Accountability in Syria.” During the hearing, Representatives from both parties repeatedly expressed frustration about the recent normalization of the Assad regime throughout the Arab world, pressing the witnesses for policy responses to the recent events. Republican lawmakers and former Trump administration Syria envoy Joel Rayburn, who was a witness during the hearing, repeatedly took opportunities to criticize the Biden administration’s issuance of General License 23, and what they argued was a soft response by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf to the recent Assad normalization. At an event on March 9, Leaf stated “Our basic message has been [that] if you’re going to engage with the [Assad] regime, get something for that.” Subcommittee Chairman Joe Wilson (R-SC) said that bipartisan legislation targeting Assad’s normalization was forthcoming.

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

Biden Administration Responds to Violence in Sudan. On April 22, President Biden announced that the US military has conducted an operation to evacuate personnel from the US Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, following the start of fighting between rival generals that has thus far claimed more than 420 lives. The evacuation of US personnel follows the failed Eid al-Fitr ceasefire, which was supported by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Last week, Secretary Blinken spoke with the rival leaders, Commander of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) Commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, urging them to reach a ceasefire to permit humanitarian assistance, family reunification, and international support. Since the fighting began, a US diplomatic convoy has come under fire and a US citizen has reportedly been killed. On April 23, USAID Administrator Samantha Power announced that the agency will deploy a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to Kenya to coordinate humanitarian assistance into Sudan. The Biden administration’s unfolding response has become politicized, as House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), who has vilified the Biden administration’s Afghanistan withdrawal, has quickly drawn comparisons, warning Secretary Blinken and the administration not to “repeat mistakes.”

2) Department of State

State Department Condemns Arrest of Rached Ghannouchi in Tunisia. On April 19, the State Department condemned Tunisian President Kais Saied’s arrest of opposition leader and former Speaker of Parliament Rachid Ghannouchi and the closure of Ennahda Party headquarters, stating that the arrests are “fundamentally at odds with the principles Tunisians adopted in a constitution that explicitly guarantees freedom of opinion, thought, and expression.” The State Department also called the arrests “a troubling escalation.” Ghannouchi was elected as speaker in 2019 and held the post until President Saied suspended parliament in July 2021, before officially dissolving it in March 2022. This arrest is the latest escalation in Saied’s political crackdown. On April 20, Ranking Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and its Middle East Subcommittee Dean Phillips (D-MN) condemned the arrests.

Deputy Secretary of State Sherman Speaks with UAE Presidential Advisor. On April 18, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke with Emirati Presidential Advisor Anwar Gargash. The two officials discussed regional and global issues, including the need for an immediate cease-fire in Sudan in light of recent violence. The two leaders also affirmed their shared commitment to promoting peace in Yemen and to de-escalating tensions in Israel/Palestine.

Secretary Blinken Speaks with Saudi Foreign Minister. On April 18, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. The two discussed ongoing peace efforts in Yemen, including Saudi Arabia’s role in talks with the Houthis, and Secretary Blinken reaffirmed the United States’ continued support for a UN-mediated Yemen peace process. Secretary Blinken and his Saudi counterpart also affirmed their shared support of an immediate end to fighting in Sudan.

Secretary Blinken Speaks with Iraqi Prime Minister. On April 18, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani to discuss Iraq’s efforts toward reaching energy independence and improving services for the Iraqi people. Secretary Blinken also commended Prime Minister al-Sudani’s efforts to reach an agreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government on the export of oil through the Iraq-Turkey Pipeline.

3) Department of Defense

CENTCOM Kills Senior IS Leader. On April 17, US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced that its forces had killed a senior leader of the so-called Islamic State (IS), Abd-al-Hadi Mahmud al-Haji Ali, who was responsible for planning terror attacks in the Middle East and Europe. CENTCOM spokesperson Colonel Joe Buccino stated that the helicopter raid that resulted in al-Haji Ali’s death “deals a significant blow to ISIS operations in the region but does not eliminate ISIS’ capability to conduct operations.”

Department of Defense Announces F-16 Upgrade Sale to Turkey. On April 17, the Department of Defense announced that the State Department has approved a potential $259 million sale of defense articles to upgrade Turkey’s current fleet of F-16 fighter jets. Congress has been notified of the sale, as is required by law. In January, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez (D-NJ) vowed to block new F-16 sales to Turkey, but it remains unclear if Senator Menendez will block this sale of upgrade parts.

US Navy Sails First Naval Drone Boal Through the Strait of Hormuz. On April 19, the US Navy sailed its first drone boat through the Strait of Hormuz, a busy waterway between Iran and Oman that connects the Arabian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman. The Navy reported that although the drone drew the attention of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, it passed through the strait with accompanying ships safely and in accordance with international law.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury and Justice Departments Target Lebanese Art Dealer, International Laundering Network. On April 18, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned 52 individuals and entities in Lebanon, the UAE, and seven other countries because of their involvement in the sanctions evasion network of Nazem Ahmad, a sanctioned Lebanese art dealer who is accused of providing material support for Hezbollah. The same day, the Department of Justice announced the filing of charges against Ahmad and eight others, accusing them of conspiracy to defraud American and foreign governments, evading sanctions and customs laws, and money laundering. This joint effort occurred on the 40th anniversary of the Beirut embassy bombing, which killed 63. The same day, the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program announced a reward of up to $7 million for information leading to the location, identification, or arrest of Hezbollah leader Ibrahim Aqil. The announcement states that Aqil was a member of Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization, which claimed responsibility for the 1983 attack.

Treasury Department Sanctions Iranian Drone Procurement Network. On April 19, OFAC sanctioned one Iranian individual and six entities based in Iran, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and China that have been involved in Iran’s procurement of electronic components for drones. The sanctions target Iran’s Pardazan System Namad Arman (PASNA) and front companies and suppliers that have enabled PASNA’s procurement of the parts.