Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Lawmakers Introduce Bill Calling for One-Year Halt on Saudi Weapons Sales. On October 11, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Representative Ro Khanna (D-California) introduced S. 5074, a bill that would provide a temporary, one-year halt of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. The bill’s introduction follows US condemnation—particularly from Democratic lawmakers—of an OPEC+ decision to decrease oil production. Representative Adam Smith (D-Washington), Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, has come out against the bill, arguing that banning US arms sales to the kingdom will lead to increased Saudi reliance on Russia and China.

Senate Drops Two Amendments from NDAA Restricting F-16 Sales to Turkey. On October 11, the Senate removed two National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) amendments proposed by Senators Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland), which would have restricted US sales of F-16 jets to Turkey. The first amendment would have required the United States to ensure that the jets would not be used for unauthorized flights over Greece, while the second amendment required Turkey to support Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership and to cease undermining the Syrian Democratic Forces. Turkey made a request to purchase 40 F-16 jets and 80 modernization kits from the United States in October 2021, a request that has faced intense congressional opposition. On October 12, Senator Menendez tweeted that the NDAA is only one tool at the Senate’s disposal, reaffirming his opposition to F-16 sales to Turkey until Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan halts his “campaign of aggression across the region.”

Senator Leahy Blocks $75 Million in Aid to Egypt Over Human Rights Concerns. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has blocked $75 million in US military aid to Egypt due to its human rights record. In September, the State Department withheld $130 million in military aid to Egypt, but allowed another $75 million to be sent. Senator Leahy rejected the State Department’s justification for releasing the remaining aid, blocked it, and called Egypt’s incarceration of political prisoners “deplorable.”

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Senator Murphy Calls for Transfer of US Weapons from Saudi Arabia to Ukraine. On October 13, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) commented on recent calls by prominent Democrats to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia following an OPEC+ decision to cut oil production last week. In a series of tweets, Senator Murphy called on the United States to redirect an impending sale of 280 AMRAAM missiles from Saudi Arabia to Ukraine and to remove Patriot anti-missile batteries from Saudi Arabia and send them to Ukraine. According to Murphy, these actions “would right-size our relationship with Saudi Arabia and help Ukraine.”

Senator Menendez Issues Statement in Support of Iranian Protesters. On October 10, Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement in support of ongoing women-led protests in Iran that were sparked by the killing of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini. Senator Menendez condemned the “systemic misogyny and repression” of the Iranian regime, as well the Iranian government’s response to the protests, which has included brutality against protesters, mass detentions, and an Internet blackout aimed at preventing communication between protesters. He called on the US government to use “every peaceful tool at our disposal” to support the protesters’ aspirations.

Lawmakers Respond to Israel-Lebanon Maritime Agreement. Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) commended the Biden administration and US Special Envoy Amos Hochstein on the announcement of an Israel-Lebanon maritime agreement, saying that the deal “represents a significant step forward in regional economic development.” Representatives Gregory Meeks (D-New York) and David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Chair of the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee, respectively, said that the deal is an important step in addressing Lebanon’s energy crisis, and could also provide another source of natural gas for Europe. Meanwhile, Representatives Darin LaHood (R-Illinois), Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan), and Darrell Issa (R-California), bipartisan Co-Chairs of the US-Lebanon Friendship Caucus, sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing their support for the deal.

Senator Blumenthal to Investigate Saudi-Russian Defense Technology Sharing. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the sponsor of recent legislation to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, has warned of the danger of Saudi Arabia sharing sensitive US defense technology with Russia following the recent OPEC+ decision to reduce oil production—a decision that will benefit Russia. Senator Blumenthal said that he intends to “dig deeper” into these risks in talks with the US Department of Defense.

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

Biden Administration Officials Asked Saudi Arabia to Delay OPEC+ Decision Days Before Cut. The Biden administration reportedly asked Saudi Arabia and other Gulf oil producers to delay their decision to cut oil production, a decision that was made October 5. US officials reportedly told Saudi leadership that production cuts would indicate to the United States that the kingdom was siding with Russia in its war in Ukraine. Saudi officials dismissed the request, and OPEC+ announced that it would decrease oil production by two million barrels per day. The one-month extension would have potentially delayed American domestic energy cost increases before the upcoming midterm elections.

Biden Administration Re-Evaluating US-Saudi Relations After OPEC+ Production Cuts. On October 11, White House National Security Spokesperson John Kirby said that President Biden is re-evaluating the US relationship with Saudi Arabia after the oil cut announcement. On October 13, Kirby responded critically to a Saudi Foreign Ministry statement that was released the day before and that claimed that the OPEC+ decision was “purely economic.” Kirby stated that, “The Saudi Foreign Ministry can try to spin or deflect, but the facts are simple. The Saudis conveyed to us—privately and publicly—their intention to reduce oil production, which they knew would increase Russian revenues and blunt the effectiveness of sanctions.”

President Biden Renews National Emergency Regarding Syria. On October 12, President Biden informed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and President of the Senate Kamala Harris that the national emergency declaration in relation to Syria will be extended for an additional year. The national emergency was first declared in October 2019 by Executive Order 13894. Biden cited the Turkish government’s attempts to conduct military operations in northeast Syria, resulting threats to regional security, and the fight against the so-called Islamic State as reasons for extending the declaration.

President Biden Releases National Security Strategy. On October 12, President Biden released a National Security Strategy report presenting key US national security concerns and methods to address them. The report highlights terrorist threats in Somalia, Yemen, and Syria and outlines plans to increase cooperation with local partners in the global fight against terrorism, which will involve shifting from a “US-led, partner-enabled” strategy to one that is “partner-led, US-enabled.” Biden also emphasized US commitment to countering Iran’s activities and its nuclear proliferation, preventing the export of terrorism and mass migration from Syria, Yemen, and Libya, and improving Israeli ties with the Arab world through the Abraham Accords. Finally, the strategy emphasizes the promotion of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in line with the 1967 borders.

President Biden Celebrates Lebanon-Israel Deal, Calls Lapid and Aoun. On October 11, President Biden congratulated all parties involved in the new deal between Israel and Lebanon to end the two countries’ longstanding maritime boundary dispute. On the agreement, Biden said, “Persistent US diplomacy, paired with the openness of Israeli and Lebanese leaders to negotiate, consult, and ultimately choose what was in the best interests of their people, led to this breakthrough.” President Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Lebanese President Michel Aoun and thanked French President Emmanuel Macron for France’s support in the negotiations.

President Biden Cancels Meeting of GCC Working Group on Iran. According to a letter from the US Embassy in Riyadh, the United States has cancelled its participation in upcoming meetings of the United States–Gulf Cooperation Council Working Group on Iran Integrated Air and Missile Defense. This decision was made shortly after National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby announced that President Biden will be re-evaluating the US-Saudi relationship due to OPEC+ oil production cuts. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said that he anticipates that the meetings will be rescheduled, and that US plans will be adjusted as officials “determine what’s in our national interest.”

Vice President Harris Meets with Iranian Activist. On October 14, Vice President Kamala Harris met with Iranian actress and activist Nazanin Boniadi. During the meeting, Harris expressed her support for Iranian women who are leading Iran’s peaceful protest movement. She stated that the administration will continue to stand with Iranian women and other citizens, make it easier for their voices to be heard, and hold Iranian officials accountable for their abuses.

Homeland Security Advisor Visits Qatar. Last week, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security Liz Sherwood-Randall led a US delegation to Qatar and met with various senior officials in Doha. Sherwood-Randall met with Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Khalid bin Khalifa Al Thani and World Cup CEO Nasser Al Khater. The officials discussed preparations for the upcoming World Cup in November and Sherwood-Randall thanked Qatar for its work in hosting vulnerable Afghans and mediating to secure the release of American hostages in Afghanistan.

2) Department of State

State Department Announces Israel-Lebanon Maritime Agreement. On October 11, the State Department announced that Israel and Lebanon have reached an agreement on a permanent maritime boundary. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hailed the role of US mediation in the agreement and said that it “underscores the transformative power of American diplomacy.” He also thanked US Special Envoy Amos Hochstein for his role in the achievement and called on both parties to uphold the deal.

State Department Explores Means to Counter Internet Restrictions in Iran. On October 12, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met with more than 20 international technology companies to discuss newly imposed internet restrictions in Iran. Joined by officials from the State Department and the Department of the Treasury, she promoted General License D-2, which was issued by the Treasury Department on September 23 to encourage companies to expand internet communication services available to Iranians without violating existing-US sanctions.

Special Envoy Lenderking to Push for Expanded Truce in Yemen. On October 11, US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking traveled to the Middle East to support negotiations on a UN-led agreement on a truce extension and expansion in Yemen. The State Department placed the onus on Yemen’s Houthi movement, stating that, “The Houthis have the opportunity to support an expanded truce agreement that would provide millions of Yemenis with immediate relief.”

US Welcomes Government Formation in Iraq. On October 13, the State Department issued a statement welcoming the Iraqi Parliament’s election of Abdul Latif Rashid as president of Iraq and Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani as Prime Minister-designate. The statement urged the Iraqi government to keep the will of the Iraqi people in mind and to refrain from violence during the governmental transition.

US Citizen Forced to Return to Iranian Prison. On October 12, Iranian American citizen Siamak Namazi was forced to return to prison in Tehran after being granted a temporary humanitarian furlough to help his father seek medical treatment abroad. Siamak was arrested in Iran in 2015 on charges of colluding with an enemy state, and his father Baquer Namazi, a former UNICEF representative, was arrested on the same charges in 2016 when he attempted to visit his son. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price called Siamak’s return to prison a “tremendous setback.”

Assistant Secretary Leaf Meets with Egyptian Officials and Civil Society Leaders. This week, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf traveled to Egypt. On October 11, Secretary Leaf met with President of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights Moushira Khattab to discuss improvements to human rights in Egypt. On October 12, Leaf met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to discuss stability in the West Bank, Egyptian water scarcity, the situation in Libya, human rights, and the upcoming COP27 climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh. And on October 13, Leaf met with Egyptian civil society and human rights leaders to discuss their experiences and challenges.

Assistant Secretary for Energy Resources Pyatt Travels to Turkey. On October 10 and 11, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Energy Resources Geoffrey Pyatt traveled to Istanbul to participate in the Atlantic Council’s 2022 Regional Clean Energy Outlook Conference. The conference focused on ways to combat the energy crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine and challenges that come with the clean energy transition in Turkey.

Deputy Secretary Amr Reaffirms US Support for Two-State Solution. On October 13, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs at the US State Department Hady Amr reaffirmed the Biden administration’s commitment to a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict along the 1967 lines. Amr also stated that Abraham Accords agreements between Israel and regional actors are not a substitute for peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

Secretary Blinken Meets with Human Rights Defenders to Discuss Iran. On October 14, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other US officials met with human rights activists and thought leaders to discuss human rights and women’s rights in the current Iranian protest movement. Blinken asked the invitees for their perspectives on the US response to the ongoing situation in Iran and praised Iranians for their courage.

3) Department of Defense

US Coast Guard Seizes $48 Million in Drugs in the Gulf of Oman. On October 10, a US Coast Guard fast response cutter seized an estimated $48 million worth of hashish and methamphetamine from a fishing vessel in the Gulf of Oman.

4) US Agency for International Development

USAID Announces $60 Million Grant for UNICEF in Tunisia. On October 13, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that it will provide $60 million in funding to UNICEF in Tunisia to help vulnerable Tunisian families during the country’s economic crisis, which has been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The funding will go toward alleviating food insecurity and helping families with back-to-school costs.