Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress 

1) Legislation

United States-Israel Artificial Intelligence Center Act. A bipartisan group of House members introduced H.R. 5148 to establish a joint US-Israel center to study and develop artificial intelligence. This bill, which is the House counterpart to the Senate’s S. 2120, allocates $10 million in funding per year for fiscal years 2022-2026 for such a center, an amount to be matched by the Israeli government.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Senators Reportedly Urged Israeli Government to Allow Jerusalem Consulate to Open. During their recent trip to Israel and the occupied West Bank, Democratic Senators Chris Murphy (Connecticut), Jon Ossoff (Georgia), Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), and Chris Van Hollen (Maryland) reportedly urged the new Israeli government to drop its opposition and allow the Biden Administration to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem. The new Israeli government has opposed the move despite the fact that prior to its closure in 2019, the consulate there had been in operation for over 100 years. The Israeli government opposes the move because it sees Jerusalem in its entirety as the capital of Israel and opening a consulate to liaise with the Palestinians “would be an infringement on Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.” From the Palestinian perspective, the reopening of the US consulate would represent a step toward furthering bilateral relations between Washington and the Palestinian Authority and recognizing East Jerusalem as occupied territory.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

President Biden Orders Aid to Lebanese Military. President Joe Biden issued a memorandum authorizing Secretary of State Antony Blinken to send up to $47 million in goods, commodities, and defense equipment to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). According to one report on the matter, the idea is that if the United States sends these non-cash goods, the faltering Lebanese government would free up funds to increase LAF soldiers’ salaries and help bolster what many view as Lebanon’s sole stable institution.

President Biden Issues Orders Regarding 9/11 Attacks. In the lead-up to the 20-year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, President Biden issued two decisions relevant to US Middle East policy. First, the president sent a letter to leaders of Congress notifying them that he extended the national emergency declaration issued just days after the attacks. The September 14, 2001 national emergency declaration has been extended annually, through multiple administrations, and it unlocks a host of statutory measures presidents can use to execute national security policy as they see fit. President Biden also issued an executive order initiating a declassification review of 9/11-era documents, which families of the victims have demanded. These families contend that the US government knows more about then Saudi government involvement in facilitating the attacks than it admited and they argue that the documents the government has refused to declassify could prove Riyadh’s involvement.

2) Department of State

Secretary Blinken Travels to Qatar. Secretary of State Blinken traveled abroad, stopping first in Doha, Qatar, before traveling to Germany. Joined by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III, Blinken met with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the ministers of defense and foreign affairs, the assistant foreign secretary, and other Qatari officials to discuss a wide range of topics including Afghanistan, US-Qatar relations, and peace initiatives in the Middle East. Blinken followed up later with a phone call to Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani to thank Qatar again for its evacuation efforts in Afghanistan.

While in the region, Blinken spoke on the phone with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammad Al Sabah and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan about their countries’ efforts to facilitate the withdrawal and evacuation of Americans and Afghans out of Afghanistan. Lastly, Secretary Blinken held a phone conversation with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to reaffirm the US-Israel relationship and to consult with him about regional security concerns.

Biden Administration Uses Negotiations and Sanctions in Dealing with Iran. The Biden Administration has prioritized a mutual return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, despite lingering suspicion that the deal is beyond salvageable. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley traveled to Russia and France, according to a State Department release, for consultations about Iran’s growing nuclear energy activity. At the same time, the administration has not been shy about piling more sanctions on Iranian officials. The State Department announced sanctions on a top Iranian intelligence official and four affiliates due to their involvement in kidnapping plots targeting foreign-based Iranian dissidents.     

US Joins Anti-IS Coalition to Assess Current Threats. Biden Administration officials met virtually with members of the Small Group of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh/ISIS (the so-called Islamic State, IS). The group assessed the current threat posed by IS in both Iraq and Syria and the steps necessary to ensure the defeat of the group. They also took time to explore threats emanating from other world areas, including Afghanistan and throughout Africa.

3) Department of Defense

 Secretary Austin Travels to Gulf Arab States. Defense Secretary Austin left the meetings in Qatar and continued on a trip that took him to Bahrain and Kuwait (his initial plan to also visit Saudi Arabia was postponed, owing to “scheduling issues”). In each country, Austin met with top government officials to thank them for their roles in facilitating the safe passage of US citizens and Afghan partners out of Afghanistan and to explore ways to further bilateral defense cooperation with each state.

4) Department of Justice

 DoJ, SEC Reportedly Investigating Potential Bribery Case. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are investigating US weapons manufacturing giant Raytheon and elements associated with the Qatari government for potential bribery. While the details are murky, the US government is essentially probing whether arms deals were signed in order to grant Raytheon greater access to Doha and give it an advantage in securing future deals to provide Qatar with defense equipment.