Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Representative Schneider Introduces House Resolution on Anniversary of the Abraham Accords. On September 19, Representative Brad Schneider (D-IL) introduced H.Res.701, a House resolution that encourages further deepening of the Abraham Accords. The resolution seeks to facilitate Israel’s integration in the Middle East by encouraging other countries to normalize relations and calls for greater regional collaboration over security, defense, economic, food and water, and energy initiatives.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

McCaul and Menendez Call for Resolution to Sudan Crisis. On September 20, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) released a joint statement calling for proactive US leadership to address the ongoing crisis in Sudan. The statement makes note of the humanitarian toll of the conflict and calls on President Joe Biden to mediate a politically sustainable resolution.

Gottheimer Leads Letter on China-Iran Relationship. On September 19, Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) led a letter with 20 other representatives to Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing concern over China’s “burgeoning relationship with Iran.” The representatives write that, “The Chinese-Iranian alliance presents a unique challenge and dangerous partnership antithetical to American national security interests,” and call on the State Department to “more publicly voice concern about China’s growing relationship with Iran and to fully enforce all US sanctions on Iran by designating Chinese entities that violate them.”

Waltz Leads Letter to Biden About Treatment of Iraqi Kurds. On September 19, Representatives Mike Waltz (R-FL), Michael McCaul (R-TX), and Joe Wilson (R-SC) sent a letter to President Joseph Biden to urge the Biden administration to “make every effort to end the unacceptable treatment of Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) by Iran-aligned elements in Iraq.” The lawmakers write that the KRG has been one of the United States’ “most reliable partners” in the region and that a new Iraq strategy is needed to ensure that they are no longer “economically strangled, politically and legally pressured,” and “militarily threatened.”

Menendez, Hagerty Lead Bipartisan Letter Welcoming Continued Restrictions on Iran’s Weapons Programs. On September 22, Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Bill Haggerty (R-TN) led a bipartisan letter with 29 other senators to E3 countries (the United Kingdom, France, and Germany) applauding them for taking steps to uphold restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile and drone program. In the letter, the senators write that allowing the restrictions to expire “poses a threat to stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.”

Bob Menendez Charged with Bribery Offenses in Connection with Egyptian Government. Last week, an indictment was unsealed charging Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), and his wife, Nadine Menendez, with participating in a years-long bribery scheme connected to the Egyptian government. The indictment alleges that Menendez accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for agreeing to use his official position for personal financial gain and to benefit the Government of Egypt. Among the allegations, Menendez agreed and sought to pressure a senior official at the US Department of Agriculture to protect a business monopoly granted to Wael Hana, an Egyptian businessman, by Egypt. Furthermore, Menendez allegedly provided sensitive US government information to Egyptian officials and also ghost-wrote a letter on behalf of Egypt to other US Senators advocating for them to release a hold on $300 million in aid to Egypt. Between 2018 and 2022, Menendez also allegedly shared with Egyptian officials that he would approve or remove holds on foreign military financing and sales of military equipment to Egypt. Since the announcement, Menendez has received pressure to resign from Congress, though he has refused to do so thus far. He has since stepped down from his role as chair of the SFRC.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

Biden Announces Return of American Detainees from Iran. On September 18, President Joe Biden announced the return of five American detainees from Iran. The prisoner release deal has drawn considerable attention in recent weeks as focus turned toward the $6 billion in previously frozen Iranian funds that the United States released as part of the agreement. In a statement on the deal, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-TX) expressed concern that the released funds may incentivize future hostage-taking by Iran. Representative McCaul added that “though the administration claims these funds are limited to humanitarian transactions, we all know that transactions are difficult to monitor and that money is fungible. There is no question this deal will free up funds for Iran’s malign activities.” Following news of the returned detainees, Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a statement announcing their return and thanking Qatar for its role in mediating the agreement with Iran.

President Biden Offerss Condolences for Earthquake-Affected Moroccans. On September 18, President Biden offered his condolences to King Mohamed VI of Morocco for the lives lost in the recent earthquake that struck the southern part of the country. President Biden and King Mohamed VI also reviewed US assistance to support Morocco’s disaster response.

White House Releases Statement on Dialogue Between Iraq and Kurdistan Regional Governments. On September 18, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan welcomed a recent dialogue between the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) regarding both the Iraqi government’s decision to release additional funds to the KRG and a currently closed Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline.

President Biden Delivers Remarks at the UN General Assembly. On September 19, President Joe Biden delivered remarks at the UN General Assembly. President Biden’s address touched on a range of issues, including conflict resolution and prosperity, global health, food insecurity, and human rights (making specific reference to abuses in Iran and Sudan). President Biden also expressed optimism about ongoing US efforts to facilitate a more sustainable and integrated Middle East, linking this pursuit with the goal of wider normalization with Israel by saying, “Israel’s greater normalization and economic connection with its neighbors is delivering positive and practical impacts even as we continue to work tirelessly to support a just and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, two states for two people.”

Biden Meets Netanyahu in New York in Long-Awaited Meeting. On September 20, President Joe Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York. During their meeting, President Biden reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security, discussed threats posed by Iran and its proxies and efforts to expand Israel’s normalization with other countries in the region, and welcomed the recent India–Middle East–Europe Economic Corridor proposal. President Biden also addressed ongoing violence in the occupied West Bank and emphasized the urgency of improving local security and the economic situation while maintaining the viability of a two-state solution. At the meeting’s end, President Biden appeared to invite Netanyahu to a meeting at the White House before the end of the year.

US Officials Meet with Iraqi Prime Minister al-Sudani. On September 21, White House Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk and Senior Advisor to the President for Energy and Investment Amos Hochstein met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani to “confirm the strong US partnership with Iraq as outlined in the Strategic Framework Agreement between the two countries.” In the meeting, McGurk and Hochstein reviewed efforts to strengthen Iraqi energy security through internationally connecting their electricity grid, working with western firms on energy deals, and reopening the Iraq-Turkey pipeline. The two also welcomed recent agreements between the Iraqi government and the KRG. The meeting followed a September 18 meeting between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and al-Sudani, wherein the two officials discussed issues related to sustainable development, the environment and natural resources, and regional security. Al-Sudani also met separately with Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the US Treasury Brian Nelson, discussing ways to defend Iraq’s financial sector against fraud, sanctions evasion, terrorist financing, and other illegal activities.

US Officials Discuss Nuclear Saudi Arabia and Iran. On September 21, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan responded to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud’s comments that Saudi Arabia would work to acquire nuclear weapons if Iran does the same. Sullivan downplayed the comment, saying, “This has been a longstanding position of Saudi Arabia,” and underscoring the United States’ commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. At a September 22 press briefing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken added that, “Iran’s own activities in pursuing a nuclear program are a profoundly destabilizing element and one that risks the security of countries not only in the region but well beyond it, which is why we’re determined – President Biden is determined – that Iran never acquire a nuclear weapon.” Secretary Blinken stated that Iran has not demonstrated that it is interested in being a responsible nuclear actor and emphasized that diplomacy is the most effective way to ensure Iran’s compliance with the Iran nuclear agreement.

2) State Department

Secretary Blinken Convenes First Ministerial Meeting of the Resettlement Diplomacy Network. On September 18, Secretary of State Antony Blinken participated in the first ministerial meeting of the Resettlement Diplomacy Network (RDN), a new multilateral initiative launched by the United States to drive high-level strategic and diplomatic engagement among refugee resettlement states and expand global refugee resettlement efforts. Many of these states are in the Middle East and face difficulties with hundreds of thousands or millions of refugees on their soil.

State Department Leads Regional Meeting Focused on Hezbollah. Last week, the State Department shared news of a meeting of the Law Enforcement Coordination Group (LECG), which convened in Europe on September 12-13 for a regional meeting focused on Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities in the Western Hemisphere. The LECG was established by the United States and European partners in 2014 as a global forum to improve international coordination with governments from around the world to counter Hezbollah’s activities. During this year’s meeting, participants discussed Hezbollah’s fundraising efforts, recruitment tactics, and the international prosecution of Hezbollah members.

Secretary Blinken Meets with Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council President. Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council President Rashad al-Alimi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Secretary Blinken commended al-Alimi’s work to advance peace in Yemen and reiterated the US position on the current conflict, saying, “Only a political agreement among the Yemeni parties, which also meets Yemenis’ calls for justice and accountability, can bring peace and prosperity to the country.” At a separate event, US Envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking commended developments in the peace process, stating that there is a “moment of opportunity and hope” for Yemen.

Secretary Blinken Meets with Gulf Leaders. Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in New York. The meeting covered several topics, including ways to create a more integrated Gulf and Middle East region, deter threats posed by Iran, reach a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine, expand normalization with Israel, resolve the maritime border dispute between Kuwait and Iraq, and work to resolve ongoing conflicts in Yemen, Sudan, Lebanon, and Syria.

State Department Representatives Participate in Meeting on Libya’s Political Process. On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last week, representatives from Algeria, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Morocco, Qatar, Turkey, the UAE, the UK, the UN, and the United States held informal consultations to discuss upcoming Libyan elections, the UN-led political process, and the urgency of enhanced coordination among Libyan and international parties to ensure an effective and transparent humanitarian response to the recent devastating floods in the eastern city of Derna.

Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Meets with Regional Leaders. Last week, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf met with officials from Algeria, Jordan, Tunisia, Palestine, Morocco, Kuwait, and the UAE at the UN General Assembly. Assistant Secretary Leaf discussed a range of issues, including multilateral and climate cooperation, refugees, human rights, regional stability, advancing a two-state solution for Palestine/Israel, and deepening economic ties.

State Department Launches ‘I2U2’ Private Enterprise Partnership. On September 21, the State Department officially launched the I2U2 Private Enterprise Partnership between Israel, India, the UAE, and the United States to deepen private-industry technological cooperation in the areas of water, energy, transportation, technology, space, health, and food security.

Secretary Blinken Meets with Turkish Foreign Minister. On September 22, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Secretary Blinken expressed his support for increased economic and bilateral collaboration between the countries, underscored the importance of ratifying Sweden’s NATO accession, thanked Turkey for its efforts to revive the Black Sea Grain Initiative, and encouraged support for efforts to end hostilities and prevent a deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Secretary Blinken Commemorates Saudi Arabia’s National Day. On September 23, Secretary of State Antony Blinken commemorated Saudi Arabia’s National Day, writing in a statement that the “United States greatly values the enduring relationship we have had with Saudi Arabia over the past eight decades…Working together, we are tackling important regional and global challenges to advance a durable peace in Yemen, end the devastating conflict in Sudan, negotiate a just and durable peace in Ukraine, and increase our cooperation in important new endeavors, including in telecommunications and clean energy.”

US to Allocate $73 Million to UNRWA Amid Funding Crisis. Last week, UN Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced that the United States would deliver an additional $73 million in funding to UNRWA. Per Thomas-Greenfield’s announcement, the funding will help provide food, health care, and education services to families in Palestine as well as immediate humanitarian relief to communities in Jenin and Ein el-Hilweh refugee camps. With the new announcement, the United States has contributed more than $296 million to UNRWA in 2023. Thomas-Greenfield urged other member states of the UN to join the United States in supporting UNRWA, which has been facing dire funding challenges. The additional $73 million also follows earlier uncertainty about US support to UNRWA, as Senator James Risch (R-ID) and Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), the top Republicans on the Senate and House foreign affairs committees respectively, placed holds on $75 million in previously appropriated State Department funding.

3) Department of Defense

Head of AFRICOM Visits Tunisia. On September 19, General Michael Langley, commander of AFRICOM, met with Tunisian Minister of National Defense Imed Memmich and Tunisian military service chiefs to discuss regional security issues. General Langley also met with US Ambassador to Tunisia Joey Hood and US servicemembers.

Possible Weapons Sales to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia Get Approval. On September 20, the State Department approved a possible $150 million weapons sale to Kuwait for the repair and recertification of its Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missiles. According to a Defense Security Cooperation Agency announcement, the proposed sale “will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by helping to improve the infrastructure of a Major Non-NATO ally that has been an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.” On September 21, a possible weapons sale to Saudi Arabia also received approval. The sale would total $500 million and fund a number of components of Saudi Arabia’s military.

Head of US Air Force Central Expresses Concern on Russia-Iran Defense Collaboration. On September 20, Lieutenant General Alexus Grynkewich, head of US Air Forces Central, expressed concern about Iran’s provision of drone parts to Russia, which may lead to future defense collaboration between the two nations. Lieutenant General Grynkewich suggested that upgrades to drones in Moscow could also make their way to Tehran, thereby increasing pressure on US aircraft flying over Iraq and Syria.

US and Israel Conduct Joint Training Exercise on Missile and Air Defense Systems. On September 21, the Israeli Defense Ministry announced that the United States and Israel had completed a joint training on missile and air defense systems. During the joint exercise, US and Israeli troops practiced activating their respective air defense systems, including the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow systems, in the “Israeli Test Bed” simulated environment of Elbit Systems, an international defense and electronics company.

Secretary Austin Meets with President of Djibouti. Last week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met with President of Djibouti Ismail Omar Guelleh. The two discussed bilateral defense and regional security issues.

4) Department of the Treasury

Secretary Yellen Discusses Food Security in Lebanon, Yemen, and Around the World. On September 18, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen participated in an event in New York on the topic of global food security. In her remarks, Secretary Yellen discussed the mounting effects of climate change, instability, and pandemics on people experiencing food insecurity. Secretary Yellen criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and discussed its ramifications for countries like Yemen and Lebanon, which rely heavily on grain shipments from Ukraine.

Treasury and State Departments Impose New Sanctions Against Iran. Last week, the Department of the Treasury and the State Department announced several new sanctions against individuals and entities affiliated with Iran. They include sanctions against a multinational network supporting Iran’s unmanned aerial vehicle and military aircraft production, which has been accused of aiding Russia’s war against Ukraine, sanctions against former President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and sanctions against Iranian persons connected to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security for their role in the detention of US citizens.

5) United States Agency for International Development

USAID Announces $11 Million in Additional Funds for Libya. On September 18, USAID announced that it is sending an additional $11 million in humanitarian assistance for flood-affected communities in Libya. The recent flood in Derna has killed thousands, with at least 10,000 still missing and at least 40,000 displaced. According to the USAID announcement, the additional humanitarian assistance will support UN programs and other local and international entities that are providing aid in Derna, Benghazi, and other areas of eastern Libya. The additional funding follows an initial $1 million in USAID humanitarian assistance provided immediately after the disaster. Commenting on the announcement, President Joe Biden added that, “As the United States continues to stand with the Libyan people during this difficult hour—we remain committed to supporting a political path toward a unified, freely and fairly elected government in Libya that can effectively respond to its people’s needs.”

USAID Announces $130 Million in Additional Assistance to Sudan. On September 20, USAID announced that it is providing an additional $130 million in urgently needed humanitarian assistance to communities affected by the ongoing crisis in Sudan. The additional assistance will support humanitarian partners on the ground, providing emergency food assistance, health care, shelter, water, sanitation, hygiene services, and other relief. Building on an additional provision of $163 million on September 6, the new announcement brings total US humanitarian assistance to Sudan and neighboring countries that are hosting Sudanese refugees to $840 million for the fiscal year.

III. Judicial Branch

US Muslim Rights Group Sues to End “Secret” No-Fly List. Last week, it was reported that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is suing the FBI with the hopes of ending the government’s “secret” no-fly list. CAIR argues that the FBI’s list, which reportedly contains 1.5 million names, disproportionately targets Muslim and Arab American communities. CAIR is calling upon federal agencies to eliminate the list and end their system of racial profiling.

CIA’s Torture Techniques at Guantanamo Spotlighted in Legal Proceedings. Last week, lawyers for one of Guantanamo Bay’s “forever prisoners” filed a lawsuit against two psychologists for their role in developing the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques. Lawyers representing Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, a Saudi-born Palestinian who is currently being held at Guantanamo Bay without charge, allege that the two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, used torture and cruel and inhuman treatment, laying the groundwork for what provided them a lucrative contracting business with the CIA and Department of Defense. Additionally, news also broke that a military judge ruled that a separate former Guantanamo inmate who was tortured by the CIA was ineligible for a death-penalty trial, finding that the prisoner was too psychologically damaged to defend himself.