Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Senate Confirms Biden Administration’s Nominations for Ambassadors to Jordan and the UAE. On July 27, the Senate confirmed the nomination of diplomat Martina Anna Tkadlec Strong as the next US Ambassador to the UAE and confirmed diplomat Yael Lampert as the next US Ambassador to Jordan. President Biden’s nominations to Kuwait and Egypt are still awaiting confirmation, a delay that State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller recently said harms US national security.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Republican Representatives Send Letter to Secretary Mayorkas on Israel. On July 31, Representatives Andrew Garbarino (R-NY) and Nancy Mace (R-SC) led four Republican colleagues in sending a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas alleging that his department is considering defunding the US-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation and the US-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development Homeland Security program. In the letter, the representatives emphasize the threat that Iranian cyberattacks pose to US-Israeli interests and urge the DHS to continue funding these programs.

Representative Khanna Warns Israeli President Herzog About Investor Flight from Israel. On July 31, Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) said at a town hall meeting in San Jose, California that he had warned Israeli President Isaac Herzog that “high-tech investment” from Silicon Valley “is leaving Israel” because of the country’s judicial overhaul.

Senator Van Hollen Asks President Biden to Stop Israel’s Racists. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) asked President Joe Biden to get involved in stopping “racists” in the Israeli government from expropriating more Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. Previously, the senator advocated reconsideration of US military aid to Israel if it is used to facilitate Israeli annexation of the territory and oppress Palestinians.

3) Briefings and Hearings

HFAC Reports that Biden Administration Offered No Details about Special Envoy Malley’s Leave. The House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) reported that the Biden administration “refused to provide…any significant new information” in recent briefings about US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley having been placed on leave. The HFAC has twice unsuccessfully pressed the Biden administration for answers regarding Mr. Malley’s leave.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

National Security Advisor Sullivan Leads Delegation to Ukraine Peace Talks in Jeddah. Last week, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan led a delegation of US officials to a series of Ukraine peace talks hosted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Jeddah. Over 40 countries participated in the talks, which an unnamed US official described as “good and constructive” exchanges to build “a just and lasting peace in Ukraine.”

2) State Department

Secretary Blinken Speaks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry. On August 3, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on “shared efforts to advance regional stability,” including cooperation to end the conflict in Sudan, support UN efforts to put Libya on the path to hold elections, and advance security for Israelis and Palestinians. Secretary Blinken also welcomed Egypt’s recent releases of Patrick Zaki and Mohamed El-Baqer, human rights defenders who were imprisoned for their criticism and dissenting views.

US Observers Monitor Israeli Border Crossings for VWP Compliance. This week, US observers are in Israel to assess whether Israel is complying with requirements to join the US Visa Waiver Program, specifically those requiring equal treatment of US citizens traveling into and out of the country. According to one unnamed Israeli official, more than 2,000 Palestinian Americans have come through border crossings at Ben Gurion Airport and from the West Bank during this new trial program. In another development, Israel announced that it will ease the travel of Palestinian Americans to and from the Gaza Strip, starting next September.

Office of Inspector General Plans Preliminary Review of Special Envoy Malley Case. On July 21, Acting Head of the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) Diana Shaw wrote a letter to Republican lawmakers, saying that her office plans to begin a “preliminary review” of the circumstances surrounding US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley’s suspended security clearance. The preliminary review process is part of OIG’s consideration of statutory requirements and jurisdictional authority, which it undertakes before initiating formal investigations. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also conducting a parallel investigation.

State Department Marks Ninth Anniversary of the Yazidi Genocide. On August 3, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller remembered victims of the Yazidi genocide, which was carried out in Iraq by fighters belonging to the so-called Islamic State. Spokesperson Miller called US support for the Yazidi community “unwavering” and pushed for the full implementation of legislation in Iraq to pursue justice and accountability, including the Yazidi Survivors’ Law, which creates an administrative repatriation program to assist survivors.

State Department Submits 2023 Elie Wiesel Act Report to Congress. On August 2, the State Department submitted its latest annual report to Congress as part of the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act. The report details US efforts to “address genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity around the world,” and also highlights the department’s recent expansion of the Conflict Observatory program for Ukraine to address human rights violations in Sudan and support humanitarian efforts there.

US Officials Meet with Taliban Representatives in Doha. On July 30 and 31, Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West, Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri, and Chief of the US Mission to Afghanistan Based in Doha Karen Decker met with senior Taliban representatives and technocratic professionals in Doha, Qatar to “continue discussions regarding critical interests.” Among other issues, the US discussed the humanitarian crisis and “deteriorating human rights situation” in Afghanistan, as well as the state of the Afghan economy and territorial integrity.

State Department Replaces Special Envoy Malley Amid Security Clearance Investigation. On August 4, Deputy Envoy for Iran Abram Paley replaced Special Envoy Robert Malley amid investigations connected to the suspension of the latter’s security clearance.

US, UK, and Norway Condemn Atrocities in Darfur, Sudan. On August 4, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Norway condemned ongoing ethnicity-based killings and widespread sexual violence carried out by Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces in Darfur. In a joint statement, the three governments called on all parties to immediately cease attacks and to allow full access to conflict-affected areas so that “abuses can be properly investigated and so that life-saving humanitarian aid can reach survivors.”

State Department Condemns Suspected Israeli Settler Attack as “Terror Attack.” On August 5, the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs condemned the killing of a 19-year-old Palestinian in the West Bank, labelling the incident a “terror attack.” The State Department urged “full accountability and justice” for the violence, noting that the Israeli government has made several arrests in connection to the killing.

State Department Marks Third Anniversary of Beirut Port Explosion. On August 4, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller observed the third anniversary of the massive port explosion in Beirut, Lebanon that “killed more than 200 people and injured and displaced thousands more.” Spokesperson Miller called for justice and accountability for the victims of the explosion and their families, noting that the “lack of progress” Lebanon has made so far “underscores the need for judicial reform and greater respect for the rule of law.”

3) Department of Defense

Secretary of Defense Austin Calls Kuwaiti Minister of Defense. On August 2, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with Kuwaiti Minister of Defense Ahmad Fahad al-Ahmad al-Sabah, congratulating him on his recent appointment and reaffirming the US-Kuwaiti strategic relationship and defense partnership. Secretary Austin also “expressed solidarity and condolences for the Kuwaiti people on the 33rd anniversary of the invasion of Kuwait.”

US Military Considers Putting Armed Personnel on Commercial Ships in Strait of Hormuz. On August 3, unnamed US officials told the Associated Press that the military is considering putting armed personnel on commercial ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz in a bid to discourage Iran from harassing and seizing the vessels. The potential move has no precedent and has drawn criticism for its risk of further escalating tensions with Iran.

Under Secretary of Defense Moultrie Visits Israel. Last week, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security Ronald Moultrie led a US delegation including senior officials from the Department of Defense on a four-day visit to Israel. During the visit, Under Secretary Moultrie and the delegation met with senior leaders in the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Intelligence Corps to discuss Hezbollah, Iran, and “bilateral cooperation for greater regional security.” The delegation also visited several IDF Intelligence Corps bases and the Yad VaShem Holocaust Memorial Museum.

4) Federal Bureau of Investigation

FBI Inquiry Determines Subcontractor Used Pegasus Spyware. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently concluded that a contractor, Riva Networks, had purchased and deployed Pegasus spyware from Israel’s NSO Group, despite the company’s blacklisted status with the US Commerce Department. According to the New York Times, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray reportedly terminated the FBI’s contract with Riva Networks once the agency became aware that Riva had used NSO software on its behalf. The FBI had previously authorized Riva Networks to purchase NSO tools under a cover name, but has since updated its practices due to the Commerce Department decision.

5) Department of the Treasury

Office of Foreign Assets Control Sanctions Maldivian Supporters of IS and al-Qaeda. On July 31, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the State Department announced sanctions against 20 Maldivian citizens and 29 companies for their ties to the so-called Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said that the sanctions continue US efforts to disrupt global terrorist attacks and support networks, and underscore America’s commitment to countering the local and international threats posed by these networks.