Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Bill Introduced to Stop Retired US Military Officers from Working for Foreign Governments. On June 20, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Representatives Jason Crow (D-CO) and Suzan DelBene (D-WA) introduced the Retired Officers Conflict of Interest Act. The bill is a direct response to a October 2022 Washington Post investigation revealing that a large number of retired American generals have taken jobs in foreign countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia via US-based and international consulting firms, often with approval from the Departments of State and Defense. The legislations aims to require more oversight over whether these approvals are a risk to US national security, to close a loophole that allows retired service members to work for foreign governments as contractors without US approval, and to introduce penalties intended to end the practice.

Representative McCaul Introduces Bipartisan Resolution Against a Nuclear Iran. On June 27, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul (R-TX) led a group of seven bipartisan representatives in introducing H.Res.559, a resolution declaring that it is the policy of the United States that a nuclear-capable Iran is not acceptable. According to Representative McCaul’s statement, the resolution results from “unprecedented nuclear provocations from the Iranian regime.” Ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, House Republicans, led by McCaul, committed to countering any Biden administration Iran nuclear program negotiations.

Representative Slotkin Introduces Resolution Affirming US Support for Iraqi Religious Minorities. On June 23, Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) introduced H.Res.554, a resolution expressing US support for Iraqi religious and ethnic minorities who faced genocide under the so-called Islamic State. The resolution expresses US support for regional integration and government support of Iraqi ethnic and religious minorities such as the Yazidis.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Representative McCaul Announces Bipartisan Foreign Military Sales Taskforce. On June 27, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul (R-TX) announced the creation of the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Technical, Industrial, and Governmental Engagement for Readiness (TIGER) Task Force, a bipartisan congressional task force with the goal of speeding up US weapons sales and transfers. The task force will be led by Representatives Mike Waltz (R-FL) and Seth Moulton (D-MA), and will bring together government and defense industry experts to conduct oversight of the US government’s FMS process. While the TIGER Task Force results in part from congressional criticism over the Biden administration’s slow transfer of weapons to Taiwan, it will also have important implications for backlogged US weapons sales to states in the Middle East. In February, the White House announced a new Conventional Arms Transfer Policy intended to incorporate human rights criteria into the FMS process, which Representative McCaul criticized as politicizing US military policy.

House Democrats Send Letter to Secretaries Blinken and Mayorkas on Israeli Visa Waiver Program Candidacy. On June 26, Representative Jonathan Jackson (D-IL) led 18 House Democrats in sending a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas raising “a number of concerns regarding Israel’s bid to join the…Visa Waiver Program.” The representatives reiterate in the letter that the Visa Waiver Program statutorily requires “reciprocal privileges to citizens and nationals of the United States” before foreign states may join, and urge the Departments of Homeland Security and State to ensure that Israel is treating all American travelers fairly before allowing it to join the program. Notably, the representatives recommend a “period of monitoring by DHS which looks directly at instances of discrimination and harassment” to monitor the level of mistreatment Americans face in Israeli airports and border crossings.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

President Biden Expresses Support for International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. On June 26, President Biden released a statement marking the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, calling torture “illegal, immoral, and a stain on our collective conscience.” President Biden cited Syria, recognizing the tens of thousands of Syrians who remain forcibly displaced and subject to torture. Biden also said that the United States must hold itself accountable to the same standards against torture to which it holds other nations. The United States has and continues to use torture in the Middle East and at Guantánamo Bay, often against prisoners of Arab origin.

US Government Recognizes Eid al-Adha. On June 27, President Biden conveyed his best wishes to Muslims celebrating Eid al-Adha and expressed his pride that the United States is “home to millions of Muslims who enrich our nation’s cultural fabric and contribute to our shared prosperity.” President Biden also announced that the White House would be hosting an Eid celebration for the first time ever. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also wished Muslims a blessed Eid al-Adha and a successful Hajj to Muslims making their pilgrimage to Mecca. The same day, Representative Andre Carson (D-IN) introduced H.Res.556, a resolution recognizing the religious significance of Eid al-Adha.

National Security Advisor Sullivan Speaks with Chief Advisor to the President of Turkey. On June 27, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with Akif Cağatay Kiliç, spokesperson and chief advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The two officials discussed recent developments in the Russian invasion of Ukraine and preparations for the upcoming NATO Summit in Vilnius. Sullivan reiterated the US position that, “Sweden should become a member of NATO as soon as possible.”

2) State Department

US Votes “Yes” to UNGA Resolution Establishing Body for Missing Syrians. On June 29, the United States voted yes as part of an 83 to 11 UN General Assembly vote to establish an Independent Institution of Missing Persons in the Syrian Arab Republic. Most of the US-supported Arab states that have normalized relations with Syria’s Assad regime abstained from the vote. US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield welcomed the decision, which aims to establish an accountability mechanism for the more than 155,000 missing and unjustly detained Syrians.

Biden Administration Ends Funding for Israeli Settlement Research Institutions. On June 25, the Biden administration reportedly informed Israeli officials that the United States will no longer fund Israeli research institutions in the occupied West Bank, effectively reversing a Trump administration policy of funding institutions in Israeli settlements. The next day, the Israeli government approved plans for 5,000 new homes in Israeli settlements, to which State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller responded that the United States was “deeply troubled.” The US-Israeli disagreements come after reports that the State Department had a “tough talk” with Israeli officials about last week’s settler violence, as well as a report that Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen during the two officials’ June 27 phone call that the Israeli government must do more to prevent settler violence.

State Department Releases Captagon Strategy to Congress. On June 29, the State Department released its report to Congress on its strategy to disrupt and dismantle narcotics production and trafficking and affiliated networks linked to the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The report, which is effectively the Biden administration’s strategy to counter the Syrian regime’s Captagon trade, includes four pillars: diplomatic and intelligence support to foreign law enforcement, economic sanctions to target Assad’s network, US assistance to countries and multilateral organizations to build a counter-narcotics capacity, and diplomatic engagements and public messaging to exert pressure on the Assad regime. Congress required the Biden administration to release this strategy under the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which President Biden signed into law in December.

Secretary Blinken Announces Former Ambassador Shapiro’s Appointment as Regional Integration Advisor. On June 29, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro is joining the State Department as a senior advisor for regional integration, where he will be supporting US efforts at expanding the Abraham Accords and the Negev Forum. Ambassador Shapiro served as President Obama’s ambassador to Israel from 2011 to 2017, and his appointment comes shortly after the House of Representatives voted to pass legislation that would create an Abraham Accords envoy, which would require formal appointment and Senate approval. Shapiro’s new role will not require Senate approval, but Representatives Ritchie Torres (D-NY) and Michael Lawler (R-NY), the sponsors of the House legislation, approved of Blinken’s announcement. The same day, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said that a Senate-confirmed position was not necessary.

Departments of State and Justice Convene Law Enforcement Coordination Group Meeting on Countering Hezbollah. On June 22 and 23, the Departments of State and Justice convened the 11th meeting of the Law Enforcement Coordination Group (LECG) in The Hague, which focused on “countering Hezballah’s global terrorist, financial, and procurement networks.” The LECG is a partnership of more than 35 governments around the world along with INTERPOL, EUROPOL, and the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law. Officials from the FBI, the DEA, and Homeland Security also participated in the meeting.

US Joins UK and Norway in Joint Statement on Sudan. On June 27, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Norway released a joint statement about their June 21 and June 22 meetings regarding ongoing violence in Sudan. In the statement, the nations condemned “widespread human rights violations, conflict-related sexual violence, and targeted ethnic violence in Darfur,” and expressed concern that increased fighting in “periphery areas” raises the risk of “further broadening the conflict.”

Assistant Secretary Leaf Meets with Jordan’s King Abdullah II. On June 25, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf met with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman. Assistant Secretary Leaf thanked the king for his close partnership on the US-Jordan relationship and vowed continued work on advancing regional stability.

Deputy Secretary Verma Meets with Qatari Foreign Minister. On June 26, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Richard Verma met with Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani to discuss “advancing initiatives to strengthen international security and cooperation” in the Middle East.

Secretary Blinken Speaks with Saudi Foreign Minister. On June 30, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. During their conversation, Secretary Blinken “expressed appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s support” during a shooting incident outside of the US Consulate in Jeddah earlier that week.

State Department Welcomes Denmark’s Repatriation of Syrians. On June 30, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller welcomed Denmark’s recent repatriation of one woman formerly affiliated with the Islamic States and two children from a displaced persons camp in northeast Syria. Miller also thanked the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) for its role in assisting with the repatriation.

3) Department of Defense

US Military Concludes African Lion 2023 Joint Exercise. On June 16, the US military concluded African Lion 2023, an annual joint exercise between the United States and multiple countries and NATO partners aimed at training foreign militaries for US interests. African Lion 2023 took place between May 13 and June 16 in Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia, and Ghana.

Secretary Austin Speaks with Qatari Defense Minister. On June 27, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III called Qatar Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Defense Affairs Khalid bin Mohamed Al Attiyah to “reaffirm the strength of the US-Qatar defense partnership and US commitment to continued security cooperation.” Secretary Austin also thanked Minister Al Attiyah for Qatar’s “continued hosting of US forces at Al-Udeid Air Base.”

Under Secretary of Defense Kahl Meets Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Akcapar. On June 23, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl met with Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Burak Akcapar to discuss “shared interests in strengthening NATO” and the Defense Department’s support for “military modernization needs.” Kahl also urged the necessity of Sweden joining NATO as soon as possible.

Under Secretary Kahl Meets Israeli Political-Military Bureau Director. On June 28, Under Secretary Kahl met with Israeli Minister of Defense Political-Military Bureau Director Dror Shalom to discuss US-Israeli defense priorities. Among other topics, they discussed “Israel’s continued integration into the region,” “ongoing efforts to address Iran’s dangerous nuclear advances,” and “the recent escalation of violence in the West Bank.”

4) Department of Justice

Department of Justice and Swedish Prosecutors Investigate Corruption Between Swedish Affiliate of US Company and Turkey. Prosecutors from the US Department of Justice and Sweden are investigating claims of corruption between Dignita Systems AB—a Swedish affiliate of US companies Smart Start and Apollo Global Management—and the son of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Dignita, which planned to sell dashboard breathalyzers that lock a vehicle’s ignition when the driver is inebriated, allegedly “pledged to pay tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks” in return for a “dominant market position in the country.” Dignita ultimately dropped the project before completion because of “potentially concerning conduct” in Turkey and terminated several employees involved.

5) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Department Sanctions UAE-Based Company for Financially Supporting Wagner Group. On June 27, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned four companies and one individual connected to Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group and its founder and owner, Yevgeniy Prigozhin. The sanctions target, among other companies, Industrial Resources General Trading, a Dubai-based industrial goods distributor that has worked with a Central African Republic-based gold and diamond purchasing company to provide financial support to Prigozhin.