Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

1) Legislation

No Oil Producing or Exporting Cartels Act Passes Committee. On May 5, the Senate’s Judiciary Committee passed the No Oil Producing or Exporting Cartels Act by a vote of 17 to 4. The bill was introduced for a full Senate vote on May 5. A bipartisan group of senators—Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont)—had first proposed the legislation (S.977) in March 2021 to limit the ability of such international oil cartels as OPEC to control prices and supplies of the strategic commodity. It should be noted that important members of OPEC have rejected the Biden Administration’s request to supply the market with more crude oil in order to lower prices and help ease inflationary pressures resulting from the Russian war on Ukraine.

Sens. Cruz, Lankford Motions on Iran Sanctions. On May 4, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced a motion that links terrorism sanctions on Iran with the Islamic Republic’s sale of oil to China. The motion passed overwhelmingly by a margin of 86 to 12. On the same day, Senator James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) proposed a similar motion that requires that any nuclear deal with Iran address Iranian oil sales to China. That motion passed by a margin of 62 to 33. It is important to note that these motions are non-binding and come in the context of Republican opposition to Biden Administration attempts to re-negotiate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran.

Sen. Menendez, Others Recognize Threats to Press Freedoms. On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, Chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) and nine other Democratic and Republican colleagues introduced a resolution (S.Res.609) that recognizes the increasing threats to press freedoms around the world. Six countries in the Middle East were included as limiting free and independent press and arresting and jailing journalists: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Morocco, Turkey, and Iran.

Rep. Dingell Proposes Recognizing Ramadan. On May 3, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) introduced H.Res.1085 to recognize the Muslim month of Ramadan and to extend best wishes to Muslims in the United States and around the world for Eid al-Fitr. The resolution had seven cosponsors and was introduced to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Rep. McCaul Urges UN to Prioritize Syria and Iran. As the United States chairs the UN Security Council this month, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) issued a statement outlining what he thought should be US priorities including, among other things, promoting cross-border humanitarian aid access into Syria and holding Iran accountable. The council is to discuss renewing its decision in 2021 to open the Bab al-Hawa crossing point between Turkey and Syria that has secured humanitarian supplies to people in northern Syria.

Members of Congress Open to Turkish Arms Sales. In an interview with Defense News, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-New York) advocated for Turkey’s receiving American F-16 fighters for its cooperation in the fight against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. From his side, Ranking Member on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee Senator James Risch (R-Idaho) said that Turkey has made a “credible argument” for inclusion in the F-16 aircraft sale program. The relationship between the United States and Turkey has been strained since 2017 when Ankara acquired the Russian S-400 missile system and Washington suspended its participation in the F-35 aircraft program.

Rep. Meijer Advocates for Strong Israel–Gulf Ties. In an interview at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference, Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Michigan) expressed his support for the Abraham Accords and encouraged a strong partnership between Israel and states in the Gulf Cooperation Council to reduce Iran’s influence across the Middle East. Meijer also criticized what he called “opaque” Iran nuclear negotiations and called for the enforcement of sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Progressive Nina Turner Loses to Establishment Democrat Shontel Brown. Progressive Democrat Tina Turner lost her primary bid for Ohio’s 11th Congressional District to establishment Democrat, Rep. Shontel Brown. Brown was supported by pro-Israel organizations such as Democratic Majority for Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as well as Republicans in the district. Turner was co-chair of Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign and was outspent by her opponent.

Democratic Reps. Voice Opposition to Dispossessing Palestinians and New Settlement Building. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Michigan) voiced his opposition to Israel’s Supreme Court decision to dispossess Palestinians in Masafer Yatta and urged the Biden Administration not to allow the use of US funds in the process. On the other hand, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) declared her opposition to the building of 4,000 housing units in settlements in the occupied West Bank, saying that it “further undermines prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

President Biden Meets with Parents of Austin Tice. On May 2, President Joe Biden met with Marc and Debra Tice, the parents of Austen Tice, the journalist held captive in Syria since 2012 when he was covering the war in that country. Not much is known about Tice’s whereabouts and his family had been demanding to meet with the president to discuss his case for quite some time. President Biden reiterated his support and commitment to freeing Tice and others wrongfully detained around the world.

President Congratulates Muslims on Eid al-Fitr. President Biden issued a statement on May 1 in which he extended his wishes to Muslims celebrating Eid al-Fitr at the end of the month of Ramadan. The statement included a commitment that the United States should always help those seeking a better life.

2) Department of State

DoS Voices Opposition to Expansion of Israeli Settlements. On May 6, State Department spokesperson Jalina Porter expressed the Biden Administration’s opposition to Israel’s decision to expand the building of settlements in the occupied West Bank by adding 4,000 new housing units for settlers. Repeating previous administration talking points, Porter said that such action undermines the two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

DoS Reports on Bashar al-Assad’s Wealth. Pursuant to Section 6507 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022, the Department of State sent a report to the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee on the net worth of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, his wife Asma, and his extended family. It estimated that he and his wife have a net worth of $1 to $2 billion. Admitting that this figure may not be exact, the report said that the money comes at least partly from shell companies that hide illicit activities such as money laundering that covers “economic activities including smuggling, arms trading, drug trafficking, and protection and extortion rackets.”

DoS Wants Thorough Investigation of Death of Egyptian Researcher. On May 2, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that the death of Egyptian economic researcher Ayman Hadhoud requires “a thorough, transparent and credible investigation without delay.” Hadhoud was detained last February by Egypt’s security services and died in a mental health facility. Activists believe he was tortured while the government says he died of “shock and cardiac arrest.”

US Is Prepared to Move Forward with or without JCPOA. DoS spokesperson Ned Price announced in a briefing that the situation with negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran is “uncertain” and that the United States is prepared to live with a deal or without it. Negotiations in Vienna have oscillated between promising and uncertain over the last few months.

DoS Condemns Attack on Burundi Troops in Somalia. The State Department condemned the May 3 attack by al-Shabab movement on troops serving as part of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia. The al-Qaeda-affiliated movement said it attacked a base north of the capital Mogadishu and killed more than 170 African soldiers, apparently mostly from Burundi, and abducted others.

DoS Condemns Attack in Israel. On May 5, the state Department condemned what it called a terrorist attack in Elad in Israel in which three were killed and others were injured. The attack came as Israel was celebrating its independence day.

3) Department of Defense

DoD Comments on Iran in Press Briefing. In a May 2 press conference, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby declined to comment on an alleged foiled attack on a US official in Germany but emphasized that the Defense Department is closely watching Iran’s activity in the Middle East. He reiterated the Biden Administration’s commitment to reaching a new nuclear agreement with Iran and protecting regional security interests.

New CENTCOM Commander Visits Base in Bahrain. On April 29, the new CENTCOM commander, General Michael “Erik” Kurilla, visited the 5th Fleet regional command base in Bahrain. He was briefed on the US Navy’s operations in the region and on the work of Task Force 59 that conducts wide ranging operations out of Bahrain and Jordan.

4) Intelligence Community

CIA Director Met with Saudi Crown Prince. According to an unnamed US official, CIA Director William Burns met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last month in Jeddah, as the Biden Administration attempts to repair strained ties with the kingdom.