Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Representatives McCollum and Schiff Introduce Khashoggi Act to Protect Journalists. On September 30, Representatives Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota) and Adam Schiff (D-California) introduced H.R. 9064, the Jamal Khashoggi Protection for Dissidents and Journalists Act of 2022. The bill would codify the 2021 State Department Khashoggi Ban, which allows the Secretary of State to impose visa restrictions on individuals acting on behalf of a foreign government or participating in extraterritorial counter-dissident activities. In a statement, McCollum argued that the bill will ensure “accountability and justice for those who would attack democratic voices, including a free and open press.”

Representatives Introduce Bill to Remove US Military from Saudi Arabia and UAE. On October 5, Representatives Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey), Sean Casten (D-Illinois) and Susan Wild (D-Pennsylvania) introduced the Strained Partnership Act, which would remove all US forces and relocate all defense equipment and systems from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The legislation is a direct response to a recent OPEC+ decision to cut oil production despite US pressure on the organization to raise output. In a statement, the representatives argued that there is no reason to provide US security and oil field protection to “countries that are actively working against us,” and accused Saudi Arabia and the UAE of aiding Vladimir Putin’s regime, stating that, “If Saudi Arabia and the UAE want to help Putin, they should look to him for their defense.”

Senator Cruz Introduces Amendment to Sanction Lebanese Natural Gas Deal. On September 29, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced an amendment to the 2023 National Defense Appropriations Act, which would make any energy deal between Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria subject to sanctions under the US Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act. The Caesar Act already requires the United States to sanction individuals engaging in significant business transactions with the Syrian government. This new amendment would open the door for sanctions over any energy-related transaction providing material support to the Syrian government. Cruz’s amendment is a reaction to recent deals aimed at allowing Lebanon to solve its chronic energy shortage by importing Egyptian natural gas and Jordanian electricity via Syria.

Representative Schiff Introduces Bill Calling on Iran to Uphold Human Rights. On September 29, Representative Adam Schiff (D-California) introduced H.R. 9075, calling on Iran to immediately end human rights violations and facilitate the release of arbitrarily detained individuals, including peaceful protesters, political prisoners, and prisoners of conscience. The legislation follows the US government’s condemnation of Iran’s violent response to protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in the custody of Iran’s “morality police,” the Guidance Patrol.

Representative Torres Introduces Resolution Condemning Iranian Cyberattacks. On October 7, Representative Ritchie Torres (D-New York) introduced H.Res.1428, a resolution condemning recent Iranian government cyberattacks. The resolution refers to July 2022 Iranian cyberattacks on Albania targeting public services and government documents, and a September 2022 attack on the country’s border control system. In addition to condemning the attacks, the bill urges US coordination with Albania on cybersecurity defense and promotes achieving accountability for the attacks.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Democrats Criticize US-Saudi Relationship over OPEC+ Decision. Multiple US lawmakers have criticized a recent OPEC+ decision to cut oil production, which they say will drive up oil and gas prices. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) tweeted, “The royal Saudi family has never been a trustworthy ally of our nation. It’s time for our foreign policy to imagine a world without their alliance.” Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), meanwhile, called for “a wholesale re-evaluation of the US alliance with Saudi Arabia.” Representative Ro Khanna (D-California) said that “the Saudis need to be dealt with harshly,” and called for barring US weapons sales to the kingdom. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said that the United States is looking at legislative tools to deal with what he called a “deeply cynical action.”

Representative Sherman Warns Israeli Far-Right Could Hurt Ties to US. Representative Brad Sherman (D-California) reportedly cautioned Israeli lawmakers against normalizing ties with far-right Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir, warning that doing so could threaten the US-Israel bilateral relationship. Referring to Ben-Gvir, Representative Sherman tweeted that, “These extremists undermine Israel’s interests and the US-Israel relationship.” His comments follow recent reports that Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) made similar comments to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September.

Representative Tlaib Urges Cease-fire in Yemen Following Truce Expiration. On October 4, Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) responded to the resumption of violence in Yemen after the country’s warring parties failed to extend a UN-mediated truce. Tlaib urged all parties to agree to an immediate cease-fire, stating that “millions of innocent Yemeni civilians will pay the price” if their leaders do not prioritize peace.

Senator Menendez Calls on US to Freeze Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia. On October 10, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) issued a statement in which he said that, “The United States must immediately freeze all aspects of our relationship with Saudi Arabia, including arms sales and security cooperation.” Menendez’s statement comes in response to an OPEC+ decision to cut oil production. Senator Menendez, who holds veto power over foreign weapons sales, stated that he would not “green-light” any cooperation with Saudi Arabia until it “reassesses its position with respect to the war in Ukraine.”

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

President Biden Condemns Violence Against Protesters in Iran. On October 3, President Biden condemned Iran’s violent crackdown on peaceful protesters and expressed solidarity with protestors’ demands for “equal rights and basic human dignity.” Biden also announced that the United States will impose “further costs” on the perpetrators of violence against protesters. This statement follows rounds of US sanctions targeting Iranian and other foreign companies working with Iranian petroleum and petrochemicals. And on October 6, the Biden administration announced new sanctions on senior Iranian leaders.

Biden Administration Officials Meet with Secretary General of the PLO. On October 4, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Hussein al-Sheikh. The two officials discussed peace and stability, the path toward negotiations on a two-state solution, and the matter of advancing security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians. Sullivan also emphasized the importance of de-escalating tensions in the West Bank and ensuring that Palestinian organizations are committed to non-violence. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman also met with al-Sheikh the same day, and the two discussed many of the same issues.

2) Department of State

State Department Urges Adoption of Expanded Truce in Yemen. On October 3, the State Department expressed concern over the expiration of a UN-backed truce in Yemen on October 2 after warring parties failed to reach a renewal agreement. A State Department statement highlighted the benefits of the truce and urged the adoption of the UN’s expanded truce proposal, which would include paying civil servant salaries, opening roads, increasing flights out of Sanaa, easing fuel access in Hodeidah port, and launching negotiations for a Yemeni-led peace process.

US Envoy to Yemen Blames Houthis for Failure to Extend Cease-Fire. US Envoy to Yemen Timothy Lenderking accused Houthi leaders of causing the failure to extend a UN-led truce that expired on October 2. Lenderking attributed the failure to the Houthis’ demand for higher salaries for their military and security personnel before increased salaries for Yemeni civil servants.

US Announces it Will Support Jordan in Countering Drug Smuggling. On October 6, US Ambassador to Jordan Henry Wooster signed a new agreement between the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and the Jordanian General Security Directorate that will help Jordan “combat drug smuggling, achieve justice for the victims of the crimes and support police forces across the kingdom.” Jordan is a key transit point for Captagon smuggling between Syria and the Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia.

State Department Commemorates Iraq’s National Day. On October 3, Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and the Iraqi people on the country’s National Day, offering them best wishes and reaffirming US commitment to its strategic partnership with Iraq.

US Ambassador to IAEA Says Iran is Holding Up Nuclear Deal Progress. On October 3, US Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Laura Holgate said that while the United States has been ready to restore the Iran nuclear agreement for months, Iran “continues to move the goalposts” and complicate negotiations. Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanaani called on the United States to show political will if it wants to return to the nuclear deal. Holgate’s remarks came after an IAEA board of governors meeting in Vienna, where multiple countries expressed concern regarding Iran’s nuclear activities.

Under Secretary Zeya Meets with Qatari Officials. On October 3, Uzra Zeya, the State Department’s Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights met with local officials in Doha to discuss human rights and labor issues.

US Brokers Maritime Gas Deal Between Lebanon and Israel. State Department Special Envoy Amos Hochstein has reportedly brokered a deal between Lebanon and Israel delineating maritime boundaries and natural gas exploration and extraction rights after two years of negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid called the agreement “historic,” and Lebanese President Michel Aoun said that the final version of the agreement “satisfies Lebanon.”

State Department Releases Statement on the Anniversary of Iraqi Elections. On October 10, the State Department released a statement commemorating the one-year anniversary of early elections in Iraq, saying that Iraq’s leaders have been “unable to resolve their political differences” despite the will of the people. The statement also called on all parties in Iraq to engage with each other peacefully and inclusively to find a way out of the country’s current political deadlock.

3) Department of Defense

DoD Announces Missile and Air Defense Systems Sale to Kuwait. On October 6, the US Department of Defense announced that it has received State Department approval of a potential $3 billion weapons sale to Kuwait. The sale would include the National Advanced Surface-To-Air Missile System (NASAMS), Medium Range Air Defense System (MRADS), and other related equipment. A Department of Defense statement said that the proposed sale would enhance Kuwait’s “ability to defend itself against regional malign actors and improve interoperability” with US forces in the Gulf.

AFRICOM Announces Death of al-Shabab Leader in Airstrike. On October 3, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced that it conducted an airstrike near Jilib, Somalia on October 1, killing a leader of the militant group al-Shabab. The Somali Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism identified the leader as Abudllahi Nadir, who had a $3 million bounty placed on his head by the Somali government. In a statement, AFRICOM said, “Al Shabaab [sic] is the largest and most kinetically active al-Qaeda network in the world and has proved both its will and capability to attack US forces and threaten US security interests.”

US Conducts Raid and Strikes Targeting IS Operatives in Syria. On October 6, the US Armed Forces announced that it conducted a raid in Syria’s Hasaka Province targeting the so-called Islamic State (IS). One IS leader was reportedly killed in the Syrian government-held village of Muluk Saray, in what was the first known US raid against IS in government-controlled territory. US forces also reportedly killed additional IS members in an October 6 airstrike in northern Syria.

Secretary Austin Calls Saudi Minister of Defense. On October 4, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with new Saudi Minister of Defense Khalid bin Salman to congratulate him on his appointment to the position. The two officials discussed the end of the UN truce in Yemen, noting the tangible benefits the truce had provided.

4) United States Agency for International Development

USAID Provides Additional $22 Million for Syrian Refugees in Jordan. On October 3, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that it will provide an additional $22 million in food aid to Syrian refugees in Jordan. In September, the UN World Food Program (WFP) was forced to cut food stipends for 353,000 refugees in Jordan by one-third, citing the war in Ukraine and higher food prices. Even with this contribution from USAID, the WFP still requires an additional $34.5 million to finance its operations in Jordan this year. The United States urged the international community to contribute.

5) Department of Justice

Department of Justice Seeks Delay in MBS Case. The Biden administration has reportedly sought a 45-day delay in a civil case between Saudi Prime Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The Biden administration was invited to weigh in on the case by October 3, addressing whether MBS should receive legal immunity, which is typically granted to heads of state. On September 30, the administration requested an extension because of MBS’s recent appointment as Saudi Arabia’s prime minister. Human rights advocate Sarah Leah Whitson called MBS’s appointment a “ploy to secure immunity,” and argued that it should be rejected and that the Biden administration should refuse to weigh in on the matter.

6) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Department Announces New Sanctions on Iranian Leaders. On October 6, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced the imposition of sanctions on seven senior Iranian officials associated with the violent suppression of peaceful protests following the death of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini and with the shutdown of internet access during the protests. The sanctions are being applied to Iranian Minister of the Interior Ahmad Vahidi, Minister of Communications Eisa Zarepour, and five senior security officials.

III. Judicial Branch

US Court Dismisses Lawsuit Against Saudi Crown Prince. On September 30, US Judge Timothy Kelly dismissed a case brought by former Saudi spy chief Saad al-Jabri against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), ruling that he is not convinced that he has jurisdiction over the case. Jabri alleges that MBS plotted to assassinate him in Canada in October 2018, the same month that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed. Jabri’s lawyers argue that this attempt was an effort to disrupt US-Saudi intelligence sharing due to Jabri’s close ties with US intelligence officials. In his ruling, Kelly did not dispute Jabri’s claims of an assassination attempt, but questioned the alleged intent of disrupting US intelligence sharing.

SCOTUS to Decide if Social Media Platforms Are Liable for Islamic State Attacks. On October 3, the US Supreme Court announced that it will hear arguments in two lawsuits filed by the families of victims of the so-called Islamic State (IS). The families of Nohemi Gonzalez and Nawras Alassaf, victims of IS attacks in France and Turkey, have filed lawsuits against Google, Twitter, and Facebook, claiming that the platforms knowingly allowed IS to grow. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act currently deems that communications services are not publishers and therefore are not legally responsible for content uploaded by users.

SCOTUS to Hear Arguments from Turkey’s Halkbank Over Iran Sanctions Evasion. On October 3, the US Supreme Court announced that it will hear arguments in an appeal by Turkish state-owned bank Halkbank. The bank is attempting to avoid criminal charges for helping Iran evade US sanctions. In 2019, Halkbank was indicted for converting oil revenue into gold and cash for Tehran and transferring billions in restricted funds to the Iranian government, some of which were laundered in the American financial system. Halkbank has argued that the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act limits US court jurisdiction over this case. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been accused of personally authorizing a transaction with Iran in this scheme when he was prime minister, has called the US charges against Halkbank an “ugly, unlawful step.”