Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Representative Lee Aims to Repeal 2002 Iraq Military Force Authorization. On October 19, Representative Barbara Lee (D-California) announced that she is renewing legislative efforts to repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which gave President George W. Bush the power to invade Iraq. The authorization is close to being repealed, as the House of Representatives voted to repeal it in July, following the Biden administration’s release of a statement in June in support of the action. Companion legislation has gained bipartisan backing in the Senate, but Lee said that she is still working with Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) to garner enough Republican approval to overcome a filibuster.

Representative Banks Introduces Bill to Sanction Iranian Supreme Leader and President. On October 21, Representative Jim Banks (R-Indiana) introduced H.R. 9203, a bill to impose sanctions on Iran’s supreme leader and president and their respective offices over human rights abuses and support for terrorism.

Representative Weber Introduces Resolution Condemning Salma Al-Shehab Case. On October 21, Representative Randy Weber (R-Texas) introduced H.Res. 1444, a resolution condemning Saudi Arabia’s treatment of Salma al-Shehab and other women’s rights defenders. Al-Shehab is a Saudi PhD student who is facing a 34-year prison sentence over her tweets in support of women’s rights.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Senator Menendez Condemns Arrests in Turkey. On October 19, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) condemned the politically-motivated arrest of more than 500 people in Turkey, stating that the charges are evidence that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “iron-fisted rule” is more aligned with the policies of China and Russia than those of NATO. Senator Menendez called on the United States and other democratic countries to urge Turkey to uphold the values underpinning NATO.

Senator Coons Condemns Death of Asra Panahi. On October 19, Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware) responded to the death of Asra Panahi, a 15-year-old Iranian student who was killed last week during a security raid on her school, which followed a group of students’ refusal to sing an anthem praising Iran’s supreme leader. Senator Coons called the death “another horrific example of Iran’s appalling treatment of women,” and affirmed US support for Iranian activists protesting the deaths of both Panahi and Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini.

Representative McCaul Calls on Biden to Address Use of Iranian Drones in Ukraine. On October 21, Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas) urged the Biden administration to “do more to deter and constrain Iranian terrorism” after news broke of Russia’s use of Iranian drones in Ukraine. Representative McCaul said that the United States must focus on Iran’s “malign activity” and “give up” on nuclear negotiations with the country.

MENA Subcommittee Hosts Closed Briefing on Lebanon-Israel Deal. On October 20, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism held a closed briefing on a recent Israel-Lebanon maritime border agreement.

 Lawmakers Call on Israel to Support Ukraine. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) called on Israel to more actively support Ukraine following recent Russian strikes on military and civilian targets using Iranian drones. Murphy’s comments follow Ukrainian requests for use of Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system. However, he also noted that Israel is not the only country that could supply Ukraine with a powerful defensive shield. Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois), meanwhile, echoed Murphy’s call, stating, “Iran is giving Russia drones that are murdering civilians. Israel is out of excuses to sit on the sideline and pretend [it] can’t do anything.”

Representative Beyer Writes to Blinken Concerning COGAT Restrictions and Israel’s Entry into Visa Waiver Program. Representative Don Beyer (D-Virginia) sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing his concern over Israel’s potential entry into the US Visa Waiver Program. In the letter, Beyer argues that new Israeli Coordinating Office for Government Affairs in the Territories (COGAT) regulations restrict entry for American citizens attempting to enter the Occupied West Bank, which violates the reciprocity principles of the Visa Waiver Program. Beyer urged Secretary Blinken to address the “discriminatory policies” with Israeli counterparts and urged his colleagues in Congress to join him in expressing concern.

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

NSC Spokesperson Confirms Iranian Troops Aiding Russia in Crimea. On October 20, National Security Spokesperson John Kirby confirmed that Iranian troops are present in the occupied Crimean Peninsula and are aiding Russia in carrying out drone strikes across Ukraine. Kirby said that a “relatively small number” of Iranian forces are providing technological assistance to Russian drone operators. Kirby added that the United States Department of Defense is exploring air defense solutions for Ukraine, in large part because the use of Iranian-made kamikaze drones in Ukraine has resulted in military and civilian causalities over the past two weeks.

Human Rights Organizations Urge Biden to Pressure Egypt Before COP27. On October 21, a total of 19 international and US-based human rights organizations sent a letter to President Biden urging him not to meet with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi at the COP27 climate conference next month due to the ongoing human rights crisis in Egypt. The letter cites the detention of Egyptian climate activists and environmental engineers and unsustainable government-led development projects that do not align with the climate change goals of the conference. The letter concludes with six demands for President Sisi, and urges Biden not to meet with him until they are met.

2) Department of State

Secretary Blinken Condemns Detention of Sanaa Embassy Staff. On October 19, Secretary of State Antony Blinken marked the one-year anniversary of Houthi forces breaching the US Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen and detaining Yemeni staff members employed by the United States and the United Nations. Blinken labeled the ongoing detention of 12 Yemeni citizens a “gross disregard for diplomatic norms” and called on the Houthis to release them. The same day, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) called the Houthis’ actions “appalling.”

State Department Highlights Outcomes of UN Human Rights Council. On October 17, the State Department issued a statement on the outcomes of the 51st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The session drew attention to ongoing human rights abuses in Syria and urged the Assad regime to end the torture and inhumane treatment of detainees, and to release those who have been arbitrarily detained. The United States also signed two joint resolutions calling for impartial monitoring of the situation in Yemen and condemning the Iranian government for violence against women and protesters.

State Department Expresses Concern over New West Bank Travel Restrictions. After Israel issued new restrictions on foreigners’ travel to the West Bank, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said that the US government is “concerned about potential adverse impacts that some of these procedures could have on civil society, on tourism, on healthcare facilities, [and] on academic institutions.” The new regulations impose a strict timeline on visits to the West Bank for foreigners, and critics have warned that they will separate families in the West Bank and create difficulties for Palestinian universities that rely on foreign educators. Patel assured reporters that the Biden administration is engaging with the Israeli government on this issue.

State Department Warns Against Normalization Between Hamas and Syria. On October 20, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price denounced new normalization efforts between Hamas and the Syrian government, warning that restored relations will harm Palestinian interests and disrupt counterterrorism efforts. Syria received a delegation from Hamas on October 19, many years after the two parties cut ties in 2012 due to the Assad regime’s suppression of protests.

Special Envoy Hochstein Says Lebanon-Syria Gas Deal Unlikely to Violate US Sanctions. On October 18, US Special Envoy Amos Hochstein said that an agreement to transport gas from Egypt to Lebanon via Syria is unlikely to violate US sanctions, despite stalled action on a sanctions waiver from the US government. Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria signed the deal in June, but US lawmakers have expressed concern that the gas transport will provide financial support for Syria’s Assad regime, and would thus violate existing US sanctions. Although a recent Israel-Lebanon maritime agreement granted Lebanon control of a potentially lucrative gas field in the Eastern Mediterranean, Hochstein said that because it will take several years to produce gas from the field, it is “very important” for Lebanon to obtain energy from Egypt and Jordan in the meantime.

State Department Reiterates That Israel Does Not Meet Visa Waiver Requirements. On October 18, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel stated that Israel does not yet meet the requirements for the US Visa Waiver Program. Patel said that the United States seeks “equal treatment and freedom to travel for all US citizens regardless of national origin” and continues to work with Israel on fulfilling these requirements. Entering the program would allow Israeli citizens to travel to the United States without a pre-arranged visa, but efforts to add Israel have faced congressional opposition due to Israel’s travel restrictions on Palestinian Americans wishing to visit the West Bank. In June, Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) circulated a petition calling on President Biden to oppose Israel’s entry into the program.

State Department Warns Against Russia-Iran Alliance. After reports that Russian forces attacked Kyiv using Iranian-made “kamikaze drones,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel warned against the “profound threat” of an alliance between Iran and Russia, calling on the international community to pay close attention to their collaboration. On October 19, the State Department confirmed that the countries’ deepening alliance was raised at this week’s UN Security Council meeting.

State Department Issues Joint Statement on Iran Internet Shutdowns. On October 20, the State Department joined the Freedom Online Coalition’s joint statement on internet shutdowns in Iran. The statement condemns the Iranian government’s restrictions on internet access and its suppression of the freedom of expression and assembly. The statement also calls on the Iranian government to lift current restrictions and to abide by international human rights obligations.

State Department Designates al-Shabab Leaders as Global Terrorists. On October 17, the State Department designated five leaders of al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab as Specially Designated Global Terrorists in accordance with Executive Order 13224, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken affirmed the United States’ commitment to aiding East African efforts to counter the group. Designated individuals include Yasir Jiis, head of al-Shabab’s Jabha wing, and Mustaf’Ato, who has organized attacks against local targets and US military compounds in Kenya. The Treasury Department concurrently designated a network of nine people as financial facilitators for al-Shabab.

State Department Confirms Imprisonment of US Citizen in Saudi Arabia. On October 18, the State Department confirmed that Saad Ibrahim Almadi, a US citizen of Saudi origin, is currently imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for posting tweets criticizing Saudi government corruption and the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. According to his family, Almadi was charged with supporting terrorism and attempting to destabilize the kingdom, and was sentenced to 16 years in prison on October 3, to be followed by a 16-year travel ban. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel affirmed that the US has consistently raised Almadi’s case with Saudi government officials, saying that, “Exercising freedom of expression should never be criminalized.” Almadi’s son, however, accused the US government of neglecting his father’s case, stating that no one from the US Embassy in Riyadh visited him until 6 months after his arrest and that US officials skipped his official hearing despite his family’s requests.

US Ambassador to Qatar Praises Labor Reforms, Urges Tolerance at World Cup. On October 18, US Ambassador to Qatar Timmy Davis praised the country for making “real change” in labor reforms in recent years. Ambassador Davis acknowledged that although many improvements still remain to be made, Qatar has enhanced its implementation of law reforms and prosecution of law breakers. Ambassador Davis also urged Qatar authorities to practice “tolerance” toward visitors during the upcoming World Cup.

US Ambassador Responds to Turkish Accusation of US Favoritism Toward Greece. On October 18, US Ambassador to Turkey Jeff Flake responded to Turkey’s criticism of the United States’ military buildup on Greek islands in the Aegean Sea near the Turkish coast. Ambassador Flake stated that there has not been a shift in US military posture in the Aegean, and said that the buildup is related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In a statement, Flake argued that, “Defense cooperation with Greece strengthens NATO’s eastern flank in support of Ukraine.”

Assistant Secretary Leaf Travels to Kuwait and the UAE. This week, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf traveled to the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. In the UAE, Leaf met with senior leaders, including National Security Advisor Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to discuss regional security. In Kuwait, she met with senior government and with civil society leaders, with whom she discussed women’s political participation, human rights, and freedom of expression.

Biden Administration Condemns UN Human Rights Report on Israel-Palestine. Biden administration officials condemned a 28-page report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory (COI) that concludes that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory is unlawful under international law. US Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council Michèle Taylor said that the report is “one-sided” and “contributes to the polarization of the situation.” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price, meanwhile, said that Israel is being “unfairly targeted.” The COI, which was established during Israel’s attacks on Gaza in May 2021, has faced scrutiny from the Biden administration and US lawmakers since its inception.

Deputy Secretary Sherman Meets with UN Envoy for Western Sahara. On October 21, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met with the UN Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara Staffan de Mistura. The two discussed de Mistura’s efforts to advance a UN political process in Western Sahara to achieve an enduring resolution to the conflict.

3) Department of Defense

New Report Details Relationship Between Retired US Military Officials and the UAE. On October 18, the Washington Post released an investigation shedding light on the large number of retired US service members who have worked for the UAE following their time with the US military. The report states that in the past seven years, 280 military retirees have requested work authorization in the UAE as military contractors and consultants to the Emirati government. The report reveals that General Jim Mattis served as a military advisor in the UAE in the time between his role as CENTCOM commander under President Obama and as Secretary of Defense under President Trump. Federal law requires both State Department and Pentagon approval for US veterans, including retirees, to take any position with a foreign government.

Military Officials Say OPEC+ Decision Will Not Hurt Military Coordination with Saudi Arabia. US military officials reportedly said that recent political tensions with Saudi Arabia over an OPEC+ decision to decrease oil output will not hurt US military coordination with the kingdom. Two officials reportedly stated that one of CENTCOM’s top priorities remains working with Gulf states to stitch together air and missile defense networks to counter Iran, including plans to set up a counter-drone technology training site in Saudi Arabia.

CENTCOM Commander Visits the Arabian Peninsula. On October 17, US Central Command Leader General Erik Kurilla began a visit to the Arabian Peninsula, meeting with leaders from the Bahrain Defense Force, the Royal Air Force of Oman, and Oman’s Ministry of Defense. During his meetings, Kurilla spoke about ways to strengthen security cooperation between the US, Oman, and Bahrain, discussed the progression of military sales between the US and Bahrain, and thanked the Omani government for its efforts in securing the release of Baquer Namazi, an American citizen who was imprisoned in Iran. Kurilla also participated in an operational update with the Combined Maritime Forces at the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet and boarded the USS Virginia, a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine.

III. Judicial Branch

ACLU Asks Supreme Court to Hear Arkansas BDS Case. On October 20, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought an Arkansas-based Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) case to the Supreme Court. The ACLU is suing on behalf of the Arkansas Times, hoping that the Supreme Court overturns the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeal’s June ruling that allows Arkansas to require state contractors to pledge not to boycott Israel. The 2017 law, which was originally overturned before the June ruling, requires state contractors to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel or be forced to reduce their fees by 20 percent, a stipulation that the ACLU argues is a First Amendment violation.

French Cement Company Pleads Guilty to Aiding Islamic State. On October 18, French cement company Lafarge pleaded guilty to charges of making payments to multiple terrorist groups, including the so-called Islamic State, becoming the first company to plead guilty in a US court to providing material support to a terrorist organization. Lafarge Chair Magali Anderson admitted that executives of the company provided support to various armed groups in Syria from 2013 to 2014, but said that all executives involved in the transactions had separated from the company by 2017. As part of the guilty plea, Lafarge will pay $778 million in forfeitures and fines.

Canadian Sentenced to 20 Years in US Prison for Aiding IS. On October 17, Canadian national Abdullahi Ahmed Abdullahi was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the US for aiding the so-called Islamic State (IS). In 2014, Abdullahi helped six American and Canadian citizens travel to Syria to fight for IS and also robbed a jewelry store to raise funds for the terrorist group.