Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

1) Legislation

House Passes Libya Stabilization Act. On September 28, the Libya Stabilization Act (H.R.1228) passed the House of Representatives in a roll call vote. Initially introduced in late February of this year by Rep. Theodore Deutch (D-Florida), H.R.1228 imposes sanctions and provides aid related to the crisis in Libya.

Congressman Levin Introduces “Two-State Solution Act.” On September 23, Congressman Andy Levin (D-Michigan) and other Democrats in the House of Representatives introduced legislation titled “The Two-State Solution Act” that would promote diplomacy and peacebuilding between Israelis and Palestinians and prohibit the use of US funds to support the Israeli occupation or annexation of the West Bank.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Senators Urge Biden to Respond to Turkey’s Eroding Democracy. A group of US senators led by Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) and composed of James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina), Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), Angus King (I-Maine), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) drafted a letter to President Joe Biden regarding the political situation in Turkey. In the shadow of strengthening Russian-Turkish relations, the senators urged Biden to censure Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the “crackdown on Turkey’s democracy.” Citing a decision from the Turkish Constitutional Court a few months prior against the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the letter highlights Erdoğan’s attempts to disenfranchise the Kurdish population and strengthen his power through anti-democratic means. US-Turkish relations have been strained since President Biden assumed office earlier this year, and Erdoğan recently criticized the Biden Administration and actually demanded a refund on Turkey’s investment in the F-35 program.

Senator Graham Thanks Qatar. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) introduced Senate Resolution 390, thanking the Qatari government for its help in US Operation Allies Refuge regarding the evacuation and resettlement of Afghan refugees. The resolution also thanked Qatar for its continued and future cooperation with the American government on matters of foreign policy and international security.

House Members Urge a Look at Tunisia Events. Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Virginia), Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking for a determination if Tunisian President Kais Saied’s power grab constituted a coup and demanding strong diplomatic steps to address the situation in Tunisia. They also asked for a determination if the use of military courts for trying civilians was a breach of constitutional protections and international law.

3) Hearings and Briefings

Pentagon Officials Warned against Military Withdrawal from Afghanistan. The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing September 29 regarding “Ending the U.S. Military Mission in Afghanistan.” During the hearing, Pentagon officials claimed they advised Biden not to withdraw troops from Afghanistan completely. Both Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, recommended to President Biden and President Donald Trump that 2,500 troops should remain in the country to facilitate a smoother and stable transition of power to Afghan forces.

Nominee for Ambassador to Turkey Testifies. On September 28, former Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) appeared in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as the nominee to be the US ambassador to the Republic of Turkey. During his testimony, Flake acknowledged the Armenian genocide after questioning from Chairman Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey). Amid complex US-Turkish relations, Flake expounded on Turkey’s position as a crucial North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally and emphasized the importance of its cooperation with the United States.

Rep. Connolly Urges Action on Khashoggi. Speaking at an event held by the Democracy for the Arab World Now, Rep. Connolly (D-Virginia) urged his colleagues in the House to approve an amendment he made to the National Defense Authorization Act to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

NSA Sullivan Visits the Middle East. On September 28, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan visited Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for bilateral talks, including regarding Yemen. Accompanying him were US Special Envoy to Yemen Timothy Lenderking and Middle East Envoy Brett McGurk. In Riyadh, Sullivan discussed Yemen with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi Ministers of Defense, Interior, and the National Guard.

Sullivan also visited Egypt, where he met with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi and discussed developments in Libya, Israel-Gaza tensions, the Egyptian-Ethiopian standoff regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, and human rights issues.

President Biden Appoints a New Syria Engagement Official. On September 21st, President Biden appointed Ethan Goldrich as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. He will be responsible for overseeing US policy in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.

2) Department of State

DoS: The US Will Not Normalize with Syria’s Assad. In response to a reporter’s question on Syrian-Jordanian rapprochement, a State Department spokesperson said that Washington will not “normalize or upgrade” diplomatic relations with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

US and Qatar Joint Action on Terrorist Financing. Considering it a strong sign of cooperation on countering terrorist financing, the Department of State announced joint action by the United States and Qatar to name a Gulf-based network of individuals Specially Designated Global Terrorists for their financial and other support to Hezbollah. Qatar-based Aldar Properties was also designated for being owned and controlled by one of the individuals in the network.

Blinken Warning about JCPOA. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on September 30 that Iran may be dragging its feet and may be running out of time to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

3) Department of Defense

AFRICOM Commander Townsend Visits North African Countries. Commander of Africa Command (AFRICOM) General Stephen Townsend visited Libya, Algeria, and Tunisia. In Tripoli, he met with US Special Envoy and Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland and Interim Prime Minister and Defense Minister Abdul-Hamid Dbeibah in support of that country’s stabilization and reconciliation. In Algiers, Townsend met with President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and the Algerian army command to discuss security in the region. In Tunis, he met with the chiefs of staff of the Tunisian armed forces to discuss bilateral security issues.

DoD Admits Killing al-Qaeda Commander in Syria. Central Command spokesman Major John Rigsbee revealed that a US drone killed an al-Qaeda leader, Salim Abu-Ahmad, and an official on September 20 near Idlib, Syria.

4) US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)

Religious Conditions in Saudi Arabia are “Poor.” On September 28, the USCIRF released a report regarding the religious freedom conditions in Saudi Arabia. It highlighted Saudi Arabia’s discrimination against Shia Muslims as well as non-Muslims and the state’s consolidation of religious authority. Earlier this year, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the prospect of new laws standardizing the judicial process; however, little has been heard on the progress or content of these laws. The commission recommended that the US Department of State designate Saudi Arabia as a “Country of Particular Concern” because of its restrictions on religious freedom.