Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Representative McCollum Reintroduces Bill to Condition US Military Aid to Israel. On May 5, Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) reintroduced H.R.3103, the Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act. The bill, if passed and signed into law, would increase US oversight of the Israeli use of US taxpayer funds for the detention, abuse, and ill treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli detention, the seizure and destruction of Palestinian property, and Israeli moves toward illegal annexation of the occupied West Bank. More specifically, the bill would both prohibit US assistance to Israel in support of any of these uses and require the State Department and the Government Accountability Office to regularly report to Congress on Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians and US assistance to Israel. The bill has 16 Democratic co-sponsors, and was originally introduced on April 15, 2021, during the 117th Congress.

Representative Lawler Reintroduces Bill to Expand Anti-Boycott Act. On May 5, Representatives Michael Lawler (R-NY) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) reintroduced H.R. 3016, the IGO Anti-Boycott Act. The bill, if passed and signed into law, would modify the Anti-Boycott Act of 2018, a law that prohibits US companies from supporting boycotts against countries that are friendly to the United States. The new legislation would modify the 2018 version to include boycotts that come from international governmental organizations like the United Nations or the European Union. Notably, the bill’s text does not mention the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, but both representatives have said that their new legislation comes in response to the work of BDS. Representative Lawler has stated that the legislation would prevent companies from providing information for the UN and the EU’s BDS blacklists, calling it “a key step to counter anti-Israel bias” in the UN.

Bipartisan Senate Leaders Introduce Resolution Honoring US-Israel Relations, Calling for Expanded Abraham Accords. On May 2, Senate Majority and Minority Leaders Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) joined the chair and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Jim Risch (R-ID), in introducing S.Res.188, a resolution recognizing 75 years of the US-Israel relationship and calling for an expansion of the Abraham Accords. The House quickly passed its version of the bill under the suspension of rules last week.

Bipartisan Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Solidify US Sanctions on Iran. On April 28, Representative Michelle Steel (R-CA) led 16 Republicans and 8 Democrats in introducing H.R.3033, the Solidify Iran Sanctions Act (SISA). The bill, if passed and signed into law, would make permanent the sanctions established by the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996. The 1996 law is set to expire in 2026, and the new legislation aims to end this sunset provision. On May 1, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced S.1390, the bill’s companion Senate legislation.

Representative Lamborn Introduces Bill to Sanction IRGC Affiliates. On April 27, Representative Doug Lamborn (R-CO) introduced H.R.2958, a bill to sanction foreign persons who are officials, agents, affiliates of, or owned or controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Representative Weber Introduces Resolution Reaffirming US Support for Israel. On April 28, Representative Randy Weber (R-TX) introduced H.Res.346, a resolution that would reaffirm US support for Israel and recognize Iran as an “authoritarian and extremist regime” that is a threat to Israel, the Middle East, the United States, and global stability. On April 25, the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution recognizing US-Israel relations.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Speaker McCarthy Addresses the Israeli Knesset. On May 1, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) addressed the Israeli Knesset. During his speech, Representative McCarthy touted the US-Israel relationship and the Abraham Accords, warned of threats from China and Iran, and vowed to continue fully funded security assistance to Israel for as long as his speakership continues. McCarthy also announced the establishment of a House of Representatives-Knesset friendship group to further the US-Israel relationship. During his trip to Israel, McCarthy also slighted President Biden, offering to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress if the Biden administration does not invite him to the White House. President Biden spoke with McCarthy later that day. The congressional delegation to Israel also reportedly met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

Senator Van Hollen Renews Fight for Accountability for Shireen Abu Akleh. On May 1, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) sent a new letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken requesting the full release of the US Security Coordinator (USSC) for Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s report on the May 11, 2022 killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian American journalist who was shot by Israeli forces while reporting in Jenin. In the letter, Senator Van Hollen writes of the State Department’s stated intention to make “technical” changes to the USSC report before it is released to Congress that “any actions [by the State Department] to alter” the report “would violate the integrity of this process.” Senator Van Hollen has pursued accountability for Abu Akleh’s death over the past 12 months through multiple letters and legislative amendments.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Leadership Calls for Special Envoys for Sudan. On May 1, the chair and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY), called on President Biden and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to establish high-level special envoys to address ongoing violence in Sudan. In addition to the continued violence, the lawmakers cited the 20-year anniversary of the genocide in Darfur as a reason for international intervention.

3) Hearings and Briefings

Senate Armed Services Committee Holds Worldwide Threats Meeting. On May 4, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on global threats, featuring testimony from Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Lieutenant General Scott Berrier. In her opening remarks, Director Haines spoke about recent violence in Sudan, warning senators that “external sources of support” for the rival sides have the potential to “intensify the conflict” and create spillover violence in the region. Throughout the hearing, senators from both parties discussed strategic competition between Russia, China, Iran, and the United States in the Middle East, with Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) pressing the intelligence officials on the effects of the recent Saudi-Iran rapprochement on the Abraham Accords and on US interests in the region.

4) Nominations

SFRC Holds Nomination Hearing Considering New US Ambassador to Jordan. On May 4, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing to consider the nomination of Yael Lempert as the next US ambassador to Jordan. During the hearing, senators pressed Lempert on Jordan’s role in the Arab world’s rehabilitation of Assad, Chinese investment in the Middle East, and Jordan-Israel relations. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) pressed Lempert on Jordan’s refusal to extradite Ahlam Tamimi to the United States for trial, and Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) asked Lempert about US accountability over the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh last year. Chairman of the Committee Bob Menendez (D-NJ) pressured Lempert multiple times to work to better the Jordan-Israel relationship and to push Jordan to join the Negev Forum.

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

President Biden Signs Executive Order Allowing Sanctions on Perpetrators of Violence in Sudan. On May 4, President Biden condemned the ongoing violence in Sudan and announced that he has signed an executive order that will grant US authorities the power to sanction individuals in Sudan who are responsible for the violence. The executive order reaffirms that “It is the policy of the United States to support a transition to democracy and civilian transitional government in Sudan.” Biden administration diplomats were reportedly almost successful in negotiating a breakthrough agreement in Sudan to transition the country from civilian rule to democracy only weeks before the outbreak of violence on April 23, but an adviser to former Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has said that the US diplomats “made the mistake of coddling” the rival generals who have since thrown the country into violence. On May 5, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, and the State Department released a joint statement with Saudi Arabia welcoming pre-negotiation talks between the rival Sudanese parties, but violence has continued regardless.

Biden Administration and Congress Respond to Syria Normalization Meeting in Amman. On May 2, the White House National Security Council said that it was “encouraged” by the joint communique that came out of a meeting of Arab foreign ministers from Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia in Amman, Jordan that was “aimed at solving the Syrian crisis,” according to Arab ministers. The same day, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, telling Shoukry that, “Those engaging with the Assad regime should weigh carefully how those efforts are addressing the needs of the Syrian people.” Secretary Blinken has also spoken with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi on the subject. On May 3, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Chairman of the committee’s MENA Subcommittee Joe Wilson (R-SC) released a joint statement stating that they were “deeply alarmed” by the meeting and by ongoing efforts to rehabilitate the Assad regime in the Arab world. On May 7, the Arab League voted to reinstate Syria, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is widely expected to participate in the upcoming May 19 Arab League summit.

National Security Advisor Sullivan Meets with Saudi and Emirati Leaders. On May 7, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud (MBS) and Emirati National Security Advisor Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, along with the Indian national security advisor, to discuss Middle East integration efforts. Sullivan also spoke with MBS about ongoing peace efforts in Yemen and thanked him for Saudi efforts to evacuate US citizens from Sudan.

National Security Advisor Sullivan Speaks with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince. On May 2, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Khaled bin Mohamad Al Nahyan. Sullivan congratulated the prince on his recent appointment, and the two discussed US-UAE relations and the upcoming COP28 climate summit.

2) Department of State

State Department Calls on Lebanese Political Elite to Elect a President. On May 1, the State Department marked the six-month anniversary of former Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s departure and called on the Lebanese political leadership to “move expeditiously” to elect a new president to swiftly enact economic reforms. Specifically, the State Department called on Lebanon’s leaders to form a government with a president free from corruption and to secure funding from the International Monetary Fund.

Assistant Secretary Leaf and Special Envoy for Yemen Lenderking Travel to the Region. From April 29 to May 5, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf traveled to Jordan and Iraq. In Jordan, Assistant Secretary Leaf met with Jordanian Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Bisher Khasawneh and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi. In Iraq, she met with senior officials and civil society members in both Baghdad and Erbil. Leaf’s trip to Amman came only days before a meeting of top Arab diplomats on May 1 to discuss Syria’s return to the Arab League. The same week, State Department Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking traveled to Oman and Saudi Arabia to work on mediation to end the war in Yemen.

3) Department of Defense

US-Led Coalition in Syria Carries out Drone Strikes on Senior al-Qaeda Leader. On May 3, US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced that it had conducted “a unilateral strike” in northwest Syria that targeted a senior leader of al-Qaeda. One person was killed in the airstrike near the town of Harem, but has not yet been identified.

Biden Administration Thanks Saudi Arabia and Djibouti for Help in Sudan Evacuations. On May 1, CENTCOM Commander General Michael “Erik” Kurilla called Royal Saudi Chief of General Staff General Fayyadh al-Ruwaili to thank the kingdom for its role in evacuating American citizens from Sudan. The same day, more than 100 American evacuees arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. There are reportedly 16,000 Americans living in Sudan. According to CENTCOM, Saudi Arabia and the Royal Saudi Armed Forces are providing access, basing, and overflights for evacuations. On May 3, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Djiboutian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssouf to thank him for Djibouti’s help in evacuating US citizens from Sudan.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Department Sanctions Financial Facilitators of Syrian Terrorism. On May 2, in a joint action with the Turkish government, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned two financial facilitators of Syria-based terrorist organizations Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Katibat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (KTJ). The new round of sanctions target Omar Alsheak, a leader of HTS, and Kubilay Sari, an Istanbul-based financial facilitator for KTJ.