Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

1) Legislation

House Introduces Resolution to End US Support for Saudi Coalition in Yemen. On June 1, over 50 representatives introduced H.J.Res.87, “Directing the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.” The resolution calls for an end to US support for the Saudi coalition against the Houthis in Yemen unless congressional authorization has been received in accordance with the War Powers Act. In this resolution, “hostilities” is defined as sharing intelligence in order to initiate coalition strikes and providing logistical aid in the form of warplane maintenance and spare parts. The resolution received bipartisan support, with lead sponsors including Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), Adam Schiff (D-California), Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), and Nancy Mace (R-South Carolina). Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has announced plans to introduce a comparable bill in the Senate. This resolution comes as a UN-backed ceasefire in Yemen was renewed for two months on June 2, and commercial flights out of Sanaa resumed in late May.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Sen. Menendez Demands New Iran Strategy. At an AIPAC event on June 1, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, advocated for an end to nuclear negotiations with Iran. Echoing his remarks at a Senate JCPOA hearing last week, Senator Menendez called on President Joe Biden to participate in multilateral efforts to sanction Iran and use military deterrence to address potential threats. The senator has maintained skepticism regarding a nuclear deal with Iran since the original agreement in 2015 and has cited Iran’s stockpile of uranium and arbitrary detentions of foreign nationals as reasons that the US should not enter a new deal.

New Pro-Israel PAC Spending $1M in Rep. Tlaib’s Upcoming Primary. The newly created Urban Empowerment Action (UEA) PAC, self-described as “a broad coalition of Black and Jewish business, political and civic leaders”, has announced that it will spend $1 million in the Democratic primary for Michigan’s 12th Congressional district in order to support Janice Winfrey, a Detroit City Clerk running to unseat Representative Rashida Tlaib. Winfrey has previously criticized Representative Tlaib for her support of Palestine and has accused her of having an ulterior agenda related to her activism. While UEA PAC supporters range from progressive to moderate, the group has ties with AIPAC and hedge fund Third Point LLC. Winfrey has raised $236,000 as of February compared to Representative Tlaib’s $2.3 million and is currently polling at 4 percent. Representative Tlaib’s campaign has denounced the PAC, labeling it as “out-of-state billionaire interference” in the primary.

Progressive House Democrats Write to Blinken about Masafer Yatta. On May 31, 15 progressive House Democrats, led by Rep. Cori Bush (D-Missouri) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking him to pressure Israel not to evict hundreds of Palestinians from villages in the Masafer Yatta area of the occupied West Bank. They described the action as a violation of international law and a “war crime.”

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

US Officials Welcome Yemen Truce Extension. In light of the June 2 UN announcement that the truce in Yemen will be extended for 60 more days, President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken released statements welcoming the truce and thanking US partners for their diplomatic efforts. Additionally, Secretary Blinken urged the parties to uphold their responsibilities in the truce, including reopening the roads near Taiz, in order to continue to improve humanitarian access and quality of life in Yemen.

US-Israel Strategic Consulting Group Meets at the White House. On May 31, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Eyal Haluta joined foreign policy, defense, and intelligence officials from both countries in a US-Israel Strategic Consultative Group (SCG) meeting. Iran’s nuclear proliferation and recent aggressive activities in the region emerged as a key discussion topic in the meeting. Additionally, the officials affirmed their commitment to military and diplomatic cooperation between the US and Israel on a range of issues.

President Biden Postpones Visit to the Middle East. The White House has postponed a visit President Biden was to make to the Middle East toward the end of June to visit Israel and Saudi Arabia. It had been reported that the president was to travel to Saudi Arabia following a trip to Europe and Israel to discuss bilateral relations with the kingdom, including developments in Yemen, defense strategies against Iran, and other regional threats.

National Security Advisor Calls Turkish Presidential Advisor. On May 30, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called Ibrahim Kalin, spokesperson and chief advisor to the President of Turkey. They discussed current regional tensions regarding Turkey’s proposed escalation in Syria and its concerns about Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership applications. Additionally, they affirmed their support for Ukraine against Russian aggression.

2) Department of State

Blinken Warns Turkey Against Launching Offensive in Syria. After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan renewed threats to intervene in Syria, Secretary of State Blinken warned Turkey against the move and advised Ankara to stick to established ceasefire lines or risk putting the region at risk. President Erdoğan’s threats include establishing a 30-kilometer “safe zone” in the Syrian cities of Tal Rifaat and Manbij in order to fight the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), labeled a terrorist organization by the Turkish government. Turkey also considers the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with which the US has partnered in the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS), as a part of the PKK and an enemy of the state. Farhad Shami, a spokesperson for the SDF, has said that a Turkish invasion would give IS opportunities to reemerge while the SDF counters Turkish threats.

UN Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield Meets with Syrian Civil Defense Leaders. On June 1, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield met with Raed al-Saleh, head of the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets) and several other officials from the group. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield thanked them for their emergency response efforts, humanitarian accomplishments, and dedication to serving the needs of women and children. They discussed the implementation of UN Resolution 2585 and cross-border humanitarian access, which is currently only open at the UN-controlled Bab al-Hawa border crossing on the Syria-Turkey border.

US Will Back IAEA Resolution on Iran. On June 2, State Department spokesperson Ned Price confirmed that the US plans to join the United Kingdom, France, and Germany in supporting an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution focusing on concerns with Iran’s nuclear transparency. According to a recent IAEA report, unauthorized nuclear materials were found at three sites in Iran, and the Islamic Republic has failed to respond to questions from the agency. In response, Iran denounced what it termed “unconstructive” action at the IAEA. Due to ongoing nuclear negotiations, the US did not previously condemn Iran at the IAEA, but recent Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps activity and stalled negotiations have dimmed hopes for a new agreement.

US Still Committed to a US Consulate in Jerusalem. On May 31, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said that the United States is still committed to opening a US consulate in Jerusalem that would serve the Palestinians. While this would be in line with what President Biden pledged to do as he took office, Israel has discounted its likelihood.

US Condemns Vessel Abduction by Iran. Along with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, Secretary of State Blinken condemned the May 27 abduction of two Greek-flagged oil tankers and their crews in the Arabian Gulf by the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The IRGC has claimed that the ships committed maritime violations and the Greek government has labeled the abduction an act of piracy. International tensions with the IRGC have risen in recent weeks as the US has maintained the Guards’ designation on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list, a reality that is helping to stall nuclear negotiations.

DoS Denounces Kais Saied’s Recent Decrees. State Department spokesperson Ned Price condemned Tunisian President Kais Saied’s June 1 decrees which dismissed 57 judges and amended Provisional Supreme Judicial Council rules. Price identified these actions as part of an “alarming” pattern of antidemocratic steps Saied has taken since suspending the Tunisian parliament in July 2021, and then dissolving it completely in March 2022.

Blinken Calls Saudi Foreign Minister. On May 30, Secretary Blinken spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. The two discussed the truce in Yemen, the stalled Safer oil tanker in the Red Sea that threatens to cause an oil spill, the importance of international support for Ukraine, and the challenges posed by Iran’s nuclear program.

Blinken Thanks the Egyptian Government for Developments in Yemen. On May 28, Secretary Blinken called Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to thank Egypt for helping resume commercial flights between Sanaa and Cairo. These flights are seen as an important step in the Yemen peace process and will allow Yemeni civilians to join family and seek medical care in Egypt.

3) Department of Defense

US Coast Guard Seizes Heroin in Gulf of Oman. On May 31, a US Coast Guard fast response cutter seized a heroin shipment from a fishing vessel in the Gulf of Oman while conducting routine patrol operations. The 310-kilogram shipment has an estimated value of $11 million.

4) US Commission for International Religious Freedom

US Releases 2021 International Religious Freedom Report. On June 2, Secretary Blinken joined US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain to release the 2021 International Religious Freedom Report. The report has been released annually since 1998 and reviews the state of international religious freedom across nearly 200 countries and territories. In his opening remarks, Blinken emphasized US commitment to religious freedom and hailed several Middle East and North African countries for their progress over the past year, including Morocco’s efforts to renovate Jewish heritage sites and include Jewish history in their school curriculum, as well as Iraq’s welcoming of Pope Francis during his March 2021 visit. However, Blinken also spoke out against Saudi Arabia’s discrimination against minority religions and rising levels of antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe. In Ambassador Hussain’s statement, he identified three key themes in the report and reiterated his support for interfaith collaboration and solidarity.

5) Department of Justice

FBI Announces That Iran Initiated Cyberattack on US Hospital. During a June 1 speech on cyberthreats, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Chris Wray announced that Iranian government hackers attempted to target Boston Children’s Hospital in 2020. US authorities were notified of the attack by an intelligence partner and were able to mitigate the threat before systems were compromised.