Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

1) Correspondence

Meeks and Democratic Colleagues Write to Blinken about Aid to Egypt. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-New York), and colleagues Ted Deutch (D-Florida), Gerald Connolly (D-Virginia), David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey), and Sara Jacobs (D-California) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the administration to adhere to its commitment to human rights in its relations with Egypt. The letter asked that the administration refrain from releasing the paused financial aid for the country if it fails to meet human rights requirements demanded by the United States.

Similarly, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, released a statement on January 25 expressing his concerns about Egypt’s human rights record. He also urged the Biden Administration to reprogram any withheld US military assistance to Egypt if the country does not improve that record.

Malinowski and Others Write to President Biden about Yemen. On January 25, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey) and eleven of his colleagues wrote to President Joe Biden asking that the administration end the contract for maintaining Saudi-led coalition aircraft operating in Yemen. This came after coalition aircraft in Sanaa last week, killing over 70 civilians.

Perry and Others Write to Thomas-Greenfield about UNHRC. Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania) and 13 other Republicans sent a letter to Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, asking her to use her position to thwart the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry into Israel’s actions during its assault on the Gaza Strip in May 2021.

Bipartisan Letter to Secure Israel’s Iron Dome Funding. A group of 106 Democratic and Republican representatives sent a letter to House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) and Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-Texas) urging them to ensure that the $1 billion supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile system remains in the final spending package of the US government.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

President Biden to Receive Qatar Emir. On January 25, the White House announced that President Biden will receive the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, on January 31 to discuss “regional and global issues of mutual interest.” It is likely that discussions will include a potential role for Qatar in securing energy supplies to Europe as tensions increase between Russia and Ukraine.

Biden Nominates Ambassador to Sudan. On January 26, President Biden nominated John Godfrey to be US ambassador to the Republic of Sudan. Godfrey is a career member of the Foreign Service.

Sullivan Meets with Ambassadors of UAE and Saudi Arabia. National Security Advisor (NSA) Jake Sullivan met on January 24 with the ambassadors of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba and Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, respectively. The three discussed joint efforts to hold Yemen’s Houthis accountable. Sullivan restated the US commitment to the two countries’ security as well as welcomed their assurance in supporting the UN-led political process to end the war in Yemen.

US-Israel Strategic Consultative Group Convenes a Virtual Meeting. NSA Jake Sullivan and Israeli National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata and their aides on January 26 and discussed joint upcoming military exercises and regional developments. During discussions on Iran’s nuclear program, Sullivan said that Washington will continue with the diplomatic path to resolve the nuclear issue but emphasized that the United States is preparing other options in case diplomacy fails.

2) State Department

Malley: Iran Must Release US Prisoners. US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said that Washington is unlikely to reach a new agreement with Iran regarding the 2015 nuclear deal unless four American citizens—whom he called hostages—are released by Tehran. A new factor also complicated the negotiations: the State Department announced that a senior member of the negotiating team, Richard Nephew, has left his role, apparently over differences of opinion about the talks.

Lenderking Returns from ME Regional Tour. US Special Envoy for Yemen Timothy Lenderking returned from a tour in the Middle East, where he visited the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Oman, in addition to London. In a joint meeting in London, Lenderking reemphasized the US commitment to end the conflict in Yemen in order to address the humanitarian crisis there.

Satterfield on an East Africa/Middle East Tour. US Special Envoy for East Africa David Satterfield is on a visit to Egypt, the UAE, Turkey, and Israel, in addition to Kenya, apparently in an effort to find a solution to the complicated situation in Sudan.

McGurk Reiterates US Position on Normalizing with Assad. On January 27, National Security Council  Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, Brett McGurk, told a virtual audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that the United States will not normalize relations with the regime of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. This reaffirmation of a US position on Assad stands in clear opposition to efforts in the Arab world to rehabilitate the Syrian president, although McGurk made a distinction between normalization efforts and security agreements between Syria and its neighbors.

State Department Warns against Travel to UAE. The State Department issued an advisory to US citizens to avoid travel to the United Arab Emirates because of the threat of missile and drone attacks by “rebel groups operating in Yemen.”

US Sells Egypt $2.5 Billion in Military Equipment. The State Department announced that the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress on January 25 of the intention to sell $2.5 billion of military equipment to Egypt, consisting of transports and radar systems. Ironically, the notification coincided with the 11th anniversary of the start of the Egyptian revolution of 2011 that ended the Hosni Mubarak regime. The administration continues to withhold $130 million from a previous package of aid to Egypt.

Blinken and Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Conclude Fifth US-Kuwait Strategic Dialogue. On January 26 in Washington, DC, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al Sabah concluded the fifth US-Kuwait Strategic Dialogue. In their concluding statement, they restated their commitment to promoting stability and security, defense and cybersecurity cooperation, trade and investments, health and climate challenges, human rights, and education.

Blinken Speaks with Egypt’s Foreign Minister. Secretary Blinken spoke on the phone on January 27 with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. The conversation stressed the importance of the strategic partnership between the two countries and addressed recent developments regarding Ukraine and Libya and other regional and bilateral concerns. It is important to note that the conversation came as the United States was announcing that it will sell Egypt $2.5 billion of military equipment despite Washington’s continued criticism of human rights violations by the Egyptian regime.

Blinken Thanks Qatar for Assisting with Afghan Evacuation. Secretary Blinken spoke with Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani to thank him for Qatar’s assistance in coordinating the evacuation from Afghanistan. The discussion most likely also included the issue of gas supplies to Europe as Russia was threatening to invade Ukraine.

State Department Seeking More Clarification from Israel. On January 28, news reports revealed that the State Department asked Israel about the reason that the investigation of the death of Omar Asad, a 78-year-old American citizen, was still ongoing. Department spokesperson Ned Price is quoted as saying that the United States is still waiting for a full report from the Israeli government. Additionally, Price reported that a US official was at the funeral of Asad, who died in Israeli custody after being arrested by Israeli troops. It is important to note that an autopsy ordered by the Palestinian Authority had concluded that the death was caused by “sudden cessation of the heart muscle caused by psychological tension due to the external violence he was exposed to.” US officials did not comment on the autopsy report.

3) Defense Department

US and UAE Air Defenses Intercept Two Houthi Ballistic Missiles. UAE and US troops intercepted two ballistic missiles fired by Yemen’s Houthis on January 24 toward al-Dhafra air base in the emirate of Abu Dhabi that houses US troops. No one was hurt from the attack, which came a few days after another attack, using missiles and drones, that killed three and injured six in Abu Dhabi.

US Navy Seizes Smuggled Fertilizers in the Gulf. On January 23, the US Navy seized a sailboat in international waters in the Gulf of Oman carrying smuggled fertilizer that could be used to make explosives. The same boat was seized last year smuggling weapons to Yemen.