Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

1) Legislation

Senators Aim to Extend Iran Sanctions. Senators Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire), Bill Hagerty (R-Tennessee), and Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada) introduced the Solidify Iran Sanctions Act of 2022, which aims to extend the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 past its current 2026 expiration date. The original act was set to expire in 2001 and has been extended several times, most recently in 2016. This action comes as Iran considers a final proposal for a revived nuclear deal, which is currently under consideration by the US and the EU. The legislation has garnered support from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. In statements regarding their reasons for introducing the bill, the senators cited terrorism threats and Israel’s security, with Senator Rosen arguing that the bill’s purpose is to “maintain the full range of our economic and diplomatic tools to prevent Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.”

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Senators Menendez and Risch Call for Increased US Role in Iraqi Kurdistan. On August 15, Senators Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote a letter urging President Biden to preserve energy firms’ access to the resources of the Iraqi-Kurdish region in order to advance shared US-Iraqi economic interests. They called attention to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Oil and Gas Law No. 22 and accused the government of selectively applying the law against US companies and creating a hostile climate for foreign investment. Additionally, they cited recent attacks by Iran on energy infrastructure in northern Iraq and expressed concern that Iraq’s reliance on Iranian energy imports is harming the country’s energy independence and internal political processes.

Representative Deutch Meets with Israeli Defense Minister Gantz. On August 18, Representative Ted Deutch (D-Florida) met with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz to discuss the Iran nuclear talks, Palestinian affairs, and Israel’s relations with the Arab world.

II. Executive Branch

1) Department of State

USAID to Help Lebanon During Food Crisis. The US Embassy in Lebanon announced on August 16 that the United States Agency for International Development will provide $29.5 million in food and economic assistance to Lebanon. The grant is part of a $2.76 billion US funding initiative to address food insecurity around the world. Lebanon’s share is divided into $15 million of humanitarian assistance and $14.5 of general economic support.

US and Allies Consider Iran’s Response to Nuclear Deal Proposal. The European Union and the US announced on August 16 that they are studying Iran’s response to a “final” draft agreement meant to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Iran has said that the deal hinges on three points of contention, two of which the US has agreed to verbally but still needs to incorporate into the text, and an additional point to guarantee the longevity of the deal. Iran has also demanded compensation if the US exits the deal again. Iran’s previous stipulation that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps no longer be listed as a terrorist organization has been dropped from the deal and will be handled separately. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid has been a vocal critic of the deal, encouraging the US and the EU to “walk away” lest they send Iran a “message of weakness” in further negotiations.

DoS Urges Turkey to Halt Defense Purchases from Russia. After Turkey’s recent purchase of the S-400 missile defense system from Russia, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price urged Turkey to disengage from Russia’s defense sector, especially considering Russia’s “brutal and unjustified” war in Ukraine. Turkey previously purchased the S-400 system in 2017, which caused the US to expel it from its F-35 program over security concerns and to sanction the Turkish defense industry.

Ambassador Norland Mediates Parliament Disputes in Libya. On August 16, US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland called Libyan Presidential Council Member Abdullah al-Lafi to discuss Libya’s current political situation and to mediate disputes between the Speaker of Libya’s House of Representatives Aqilah Saleh and Chair of the High Council of State Khalid al-Mishri. Libya’s political stalemate continues as Fathi Bashaga and Abdul-Hamid Dbeibah both claim to be the country’s rightful leader. In late July, the UN labeled Libya as “highly volatile” and underscored the importance of holding elections soon, while also highlighting issues such as human rights violations and protests against Libya’s National Oil Corporation.

DoS to Receive Information Regarding West Bank NGO Raids. After the Israeli Army raided the offices of seven NGOs in the West Bank on August 18, the State Department expressed its concern and requested more information from Israeli officials regarding their justification for the raids. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said that there must be “a very high bar to take action against civil society organizations” and reaffirmed US support for such organizations in the West Bank. Israel accused the organizations of channeling aid to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and blacklisted them in October 2021 before raiding their offices in August 2022. Nine European countries have condemned the raids due to lack of evidence and have pledged to continue supporting the groups.

US Condemns Rushdie Attack and Iranian Response. On August 14, Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the August 12 attack against author Salman Rushdie. Rushdie was stabbed multiple times at the Chautauqua Institute in Upstate New York by New Jersey resident Hadi Matar, who is currently in custody and has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault. Rushdie, who was seriously injured in the attack but is now recovering in hospital, has drawn ire throughout his career for his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, which some critics labeled as offensive to Islam. In 1989, former Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death. Secretary Blinken decried what he labeled as “gloating” over the attack in Iranian state media. Iran’s Foreign Ministry has denied any connection to the stabbing, but said that Rushdie and his supporters are at fault.

US and Saudi Officials Discuss UN Truce in Yemen. On August 17, US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the UAE, where he engaged with senior officials to discuss the UN-backed truce in Yemen and advocated an extended truce to come into effect October 2. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price highlighted the benefits of the current truce but also called on parties to the conflict to “set aside maximalist demands” so as to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people. Additionally, Special Envoy Lenderking urged all parties to adhere to the terms of the truce and to work to overcome tensions in Yemen’s Shabwa Governorate.

US Condemns Jerusalem Attack. On August 14, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price condemned the attack in Jerusalem’s Old City that wounded eight victims, including five US citizens. The shooter was identified as a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who turned himself in to police after they searched the Silwan neighborhood. The shooting comes as tensions continue between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

2) Department of Defense

Austin Speaks with Israel’s Gantz. On August 16, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz to discuss security issues. Austin condemned the August 14 attack in Jerusalem and reiterated the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security.

US Keeps West Bank Coordinator’s Rank Unchanged. The United States has decided not to change the rank of the US Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which will remain at the rank of three-star general. In early August, the Defense Department said that it was going to downgrade the rank to colonel, pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017. Congressional opposition to the move is likely the reason for keeping the rank unchanged for the time being.

US and Oman Conduct Joint Military Exercise. On August 15, military units from Oman and the US began the “Valley of Fire” joint drill in Oman’s Dhofar Governate. The drill will continue until August 24.

IS Hostage Taker Sentenced in US. On August 19, El Shafee Elsheikh, one of four British nationals who joined the so-called Islamic State and abducted Americans and others in Iraq and Syria, was sentenced to life in prison by a US judge. Elsheikh and his friends were convicted in April 2021 of abducting and killing four Americans: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.