Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Senators Rubio, Hassan, and Rosen Introduce Bill Sanctioning Iranian Oil Trade. On June 6, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) introduced S.1829, the Stop Harboring Iranian Petroleum (SHIP) Act. The bill, if passed and signed into law, would introduce sanctions to target the Iranian oil trade and require the administration to report to Congress on Iranian petroleum exports. In their announcement, the senators cited reports stating that Chinese refineries are processing, refining, or otherwise engaging with 1.2 million barrels of Iranian oil per day. Representatives Michael Lawler (R-NY) and Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) introduced the House companion legislation, H.R. 3774, last week.

Senate Republicans Introduce Bill to Repeal 2001 Counterterrorism AUMF. On June 8, Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), J.D. Vance (R-OH), and Mike Braun (R-IN) introduced S.1872, the End Endless Wars Act. The bill aims to repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which four successive US administrations have used to justify counterterrorism operations in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and other states. The legislation is unlikely to succeed, as the Senate voted 86 to 9 in March to reject an amendment by Senator Paul to repeal the 2001 AUMF.

Representatives Frankel and Wilson Introduce Bill to Reauthorize Development Cooperation with Israel. On June 7, Representatives Lois Frankel (D-FL) and Joe Wilson (R-SC) introduced H.R. 3907, a bill that would reauthorize a collaborative program started in 2019 between the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Israeli Agency for International Development Cooperation. The legislation would renew the cooperation between these two agencies through 2026 and would double the initiative’s annual budget from $2 million to $4 million. The bill would also require that USAID submit a report to Congress on the feasibility of expanding development projects with regional Arab partners.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Senators Murphy and Wyden Criticize Saudi Arabia’s LIV-PGA Deal. On June 6, Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) criticized the merger between the PGA tour and LIV Golf that was announced earlier the same day. The senators are critical of the merger because Saudi Arabia, through its sovereign wealth fund, now funds and exercises substantial control over major international golf tournaments. Senator Murphy criticized PGA officials for entering the deal, accusing them of abandoning human rights concerns, while Senator Wyden vowed to “dive into every piece of Saudi Arabia’s deal with the PGA.” Some Republicans, like Senator J.D. Vance (R-OH) downplayed the deal, stating that it is “not at the top of my list.” The deal may also have important implications ahead of former President Donald Trump’s 2024 reelection campaign, given the Trump family’s ownership of multiple golf courses and its connections to professional golf.

Senator Van Hollen Calls for Full Declassification of USSC Shireen Abu Akleh Report. On June 5, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) called on the Biden administration to declassify the US Security Coordinator (USSC) for Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s report on the May 11, 2022 killing of Palestinian American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Senator Van Hollen, who has increasingly pressed for transparency and accountability for Abu Akleh’s death in recent weeks, said that the USSC team investigated the matter with “objectivity and the utmost professional integrity,” but stated that the team was not granted access to key witnesses within the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) that would’ve facilitated a proper, independent investigation. The senator also stated that the report is still important because it provides details on the IDF unit involved in the operation and on Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s efforts at engaging with the Israeli government over the matter, which were reportedly rebuffed. Senator Van Hollen called on the Biden administration to declassify the report and release it to the public.

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

Vice President Harris Criticizes Israeli Judicial Overhaul, Faces Blowback from Israeli Foreign Minister. On June 6, during a speech at the Israeli Embassy in Washington celebrating the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding, Vice President Kamala Harris said that Israel needs “an independent judiciary,” stating that democratic values such as an independent judiciary are “the bedrock of the US-Israel relationship.” Following Vice President Harris’ speech, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen criticized her remarks, alleging that the Vice President has not even read the bill that would overhaul Israel’s judiciary. Following Cohen’s remarks and a response from US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, the Israeli foreign minister said that he has “great respect” for both the United States and Vice President Harris. The spat is the latest tension between the current far-right Israeli government and the White House over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial judicial overhaul, which President Biden himself criticized in March.

2) Department of State

Secretary Blinken Travels to Saudi Arabia, Meets with MBS and Gulf Leaders. On June 6, Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he met with Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (MBS). The two officials discussed Yemen, deepening US-Saudi economic cooperation, and Saudi Arabia’s role in evacuating US citizens fleeing violence in Sudan. Secretary Blinken also reportedly emphasized the importance of human rights to the US-Saudi relationship, and Biden administration officials reportedly said this week that Blinken was going to press for the release of US-Saudi citizens who are trapped in Saudi Arabia under travel bans, such as 72-year-old Saad Ibrahim Almadi, who was arrested by Saudi authorities in 2021 because of tweets criticizing MBS. Also present in the meeting were Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf and State Department Counselor Derek Chollet. A State Department official said that the officials had “an open, candid discussion.”

On June 7, Secretary Blinken traveled to Riyadh, where he met with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and with Saudi women leaders. Significantly, the Saudi foreign minister said that normalization with Israel would “bring significant benefits to all,” but cautioned that such benefits would be limited “without finding a pathway to peace for the Palestinian people.” During Blinken’s trip, lawmakers from both parties said that Saudi-Israeli normalization will likely have broad bipartisan support in Congress. Also on June 7, Blinken met with the foreign ministers of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, and the officials discussed numerous issues, including Iran, Yemen, Palestine and Israel, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, the war in Ukraine, and the US-GCC relationship.

On June 8, Secretary Blinken met with the foreign ministers of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh/ISIS in Riyadh, and reportedly told member countries to “step up” and take responsibility in repatriating their citizens who once belonged to the so-called Islamic State (IS). During the meeting, Blinken also announced $150 million in new US funding for anti-IS stabilization efforts in Syria and Iraq. Finally, he announced the State Department’s designation of two IS leaders in Iraq and the Sahel region as specially designated global terrorists. The same day, Blinken also met with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council President Rashad al-Alimi.

Secretary Blinken Addresses AIPAC. On June 5, Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). During his speech, Secretary Blinken defended continued US military funding to Israel and vowed that the US government will continue to reject both the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and “anti-Israel efforts” at the United Nations. Secretary Blinken also pushed for the expansion of the Abraham Accords to include Saudi-Israeli normalization, arguing that, “The United States has a real national security interest,” in promoting ties between the two countries. Secretary Blinken also reiterated US-support for a two-state solution in Palestine/Israel.

Secretary Blinken Calls Prime Minister Netanyahu. On June 8, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two officials discussed Israel’s normalization with Arab states, the need to uphold the commitments of the recent Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh meetings, and US support for a two-state solution. The phone call followed Secretary Blinken’s meetings with Saudi officials, where Saudi-Israeli normalization was discussed.

Secretary Blinken Calls Turkish Foreign Minister. On June 8, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, congratulating him on his new appointment. The two officials discussed the US-Turkey relationship, the importance of NATO unity, and the necessity of Sweden’s accession into NATO.

3) Department of Defense

US and UK Navies Respond to Iranian Revolutionary Guard Ships in the Strait of Hormuz. On June 5, the US Navy and the United Kingdom Royal Navy responded to three ships belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that were harassing a merchant ship in the Strait of Hormuz. The US Navy reported that the situation was de-escalated approximately an hour after the United States and United Kingdom deployed ships and aircraft to the area.

CENTCOM Commander Kurilla Meets US Military Partners Around the Middle East. From May 15 to June 2, US Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander General Michael “Erik” Kurilla met with US military partners around the Middle East, including in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Israel, and Jordan. In all of his meetings, General Kurilla discussed ways to strengthen bilateral military relationships and address regional security threats, including the Eagle Resolve 23 joint exercise with Saudi Arabia and efforts in Iraq to fight the so-called Islamic State.

UN Watchdog Suggests US Actions in Guantanamo Bay May Constitute Crimes Against Humanity. On June 2, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention publicized an opinion adopted late last year holding the United States and seven other countries responsible for the torture and illegal detention of a Saudi prisoner. Though the US government believed that the detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, had masterminded an October 2000 suicide bombing, but did not charge al-Nashiri until 2008. Before charging al-Nashiri, the United States transported him between various CIA black sites and ultimately placed him in Guantanamo Bay, where he remains to this day. Notably, the working group said of its report that, “The conclusions reached here also apply to other detainees in similar situations at Guantanamo Bay,” and that “widespread or systematic imprisonment…may constitute crimes against humanity.”

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Department Sanctions International Iran Missile Procurement Network. On June 6, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned seven individuals and six entities in Iran, China, and Hong Kong that are connected to Iran’s ballistic missile program. The sanctions target China-based companies that have sold centrifuges to Iran-based firms, as well as Hong Kong-based front companies. They also target the Iranian Defense Attaché to China, Davoud Damghani, who reportedly facilitated the purchases.