Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

1) Hearings and Briefings

Examining the State of Democracy in Tunisia. The House subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa on October 15 held a briefing on “Tunisia: Examining the State of Democracy and Next Steps for U.S. Policy.” The virtual briefing featured Elie Abouaoun from the United States Institute of Peace, Amna Guellali from Amnesty International, Alexis Arieff from the Congressional Research Service, and Eddy Acevedo from the Wilson Center. Panelists discussed developments in the country as its President Kais Saied resorts to extraordinary measures to consolidate his powers as well as what the United States can do to safeguard democracy in Tunis. Subcommittee chairman Ted Deutsch (D-Florida) expressed his concern at the turn of events in the country, but pledged the United States’ support for “Tunisia’s democratic transition and the constitutional reform process.” In a meeting with the US ambassador to Tunisia, Donald Bloom, President Saied rebuked Deutsch’s opinion and related his dissatisfaction that Congress discussed the situation in his country.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Congressional Republicans Chastise UNHRC. On October 14, the United States was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) from which the Trump Administration withdrew in 2018. Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member, Jim Risch (R-Idaho), released a statement challenging the authority of the institution and President Joe Biden’s decision to rejoin the council. Biden had campaigned on a platform to rejoin the institution and initiated the effort in February 2021. Both former President Donald Trump and Senator Risch cite the council’s frequent criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as the basis of its illegitimacy. In his statement, Risch highlighted Israel’s importance as a US ally in the Middle East, echoing bipartisan support for Israel illustrated by the House’s decision to provide additional funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile program last month.

Senator Paul Continues to Hold Israel’s Iron Dome Funding. It has been weeks since the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to approve $1 billion in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile system. But Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) continues to hold up the funding because of a dispute about how to disperse it. House progressives who opposed the funding—which comes in addition to $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel this year—were accused of anti-Semitism by many lawmakers and pro-Israel organizations in the United States. But apparently a Republican Senator can alone block the passage of the legislation and still be considered a friend of Israel and escape the criticism.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

NSA Sullivan Meets with Israel’s Lapid and UAE’s Bin Zayed. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met on October 12 with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. Sullivan reiterated US commitment to Israel’s security and the need to deepen its relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco. Sullivan also emphasized the importance of improving the life of Palestinians in Gaza. The two men agreed to consult regularly on Iran. Sullivan also met on October 15 with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and they discussed issues of regional cooperation and dialogue.

2) State Department

Blinken Meets with Israeli and Emirati Foreign Ministers. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met jointly on October 13 with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. At the press conference after the meeting, Blinken said that the United States will press ahead with reopening the US Consulate in Jerusalem that operates as a diplomatic outreach to the Palestinians. However, he did not specify the date of that reopening. On October 12, Israeli Justice Minister Gideon Saar had flatly opposed the move while participating in a conference in Jerusalem.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman also met with the Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry Alon Ushpiz. Sherman emphasized the US view that both Israelis and Palestinians “deserve equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and dignity, and emphasized the importance of practical steps to improve the lives of Palestinians.”

United States Cosponsors HR Resolution on Syria at Human Rights Council. The United States cosponsored a resolution at a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council on human rights violations and abuses in Syria. The US delegation also supported a side event with the Syrian opposition and civil society groups on the dire conditions of detainees in Syria. The United States also called for an end to the conflict in Yemen and human rights violations in Somalia.

US Delegation Meets with Taliban Reps in Doha. An American interagency delegation met in Doha, Qatar, with representatives from Afghanistan’s Taliban. The two sides discussed continuing evacuation of American citizens and others, fighting terrorism, and human rights issues in Afghanistan. The delegations also discussed US humanitarian assistance to those who need it in that country.

US Condemns Attack on Turkey from Syria. The State Department has condemned an attack on Turkey from northern Syria in which two Turkish policemen were killed. Turkey had announced that the attack on Sunday was the work of the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units.

Two Guantanamo Detainees Will Be Released. The interagency Periodic Review Board has approved the release of two Guantanamo detainees, one Yemeni and one Afghan, after years of detention. The Yemeni will be resettled in Oman and the Afghan’s destination will have to be negotiated with the Taliban.

Malley to Visit Gulf States. State Department announced that US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley will visit the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia October 15 to 21 to discuss Iran-related issues such as its regional activities and its return to the JCPOA.

Feltman Speaks to Sudanese Officials. Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman spoke on October 12 and 13 with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Sovereignty Council Chairman General Abdelfattah al-Burhan about adhering to the transitional agreement of 2019 and the 2020 Juba Agreement.

US Gives Lebanese Army $67 Million. Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland announced on October 14 that the United States is giving the Lebanese army $67 million in addition to funds already committed to the institution. Commenting on recent Iranian oil shipments to Lebanon, Nuland called the action a “publicity stunt.”

Blinken Says US Committed to help defend Saudi Arabia. In an October 14 meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Secretary Blinken said that the United States is committed to help Saudi Arabia defend itself. The two officials also discussed regional issues, including the Yemen conflict.