Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Personnel and Correspondence

Democratic Leadership Invites Israeli President to Address Congress. On October 25, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) invited Israeli President Isaac Herzog to speak to a Joint Meeting of Congress to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. The letter also highlights former US President Harry S. Truman’s near-immediate recognition of Israel in 1948, as well as the two countries’ “unbreakable bond.” President Herzog was in Washington last week to meet with President Biden and senior US officials, but it is unclear when, or if, he will speak in front of Congress.

Senator Murphy Speaks with Egyptian Human Rights Activists about COP27. On October 25, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) hosted a virtual meeting with Egyptian human rights activists Mona Seif and Sana Seif, sisters of Alaa Abdel Fattah, a pro-democracy activist who has been imprisoned in Egypt since September 2019. Abdel Fattah’s case has gained renewed urgency since he embarked on a hunger strike in April 2022. During the meeting, Senator Murphy and the Seif sisters discussed human rights in Egypt and the upcoming COP27 climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Senators Urge President Biden to Address Tunisia’s Democratic Backslide. On October 26, Senators Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Chair and Ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, respectively, wrote a letter to President Biden urging him to mobilize G7 partners to address democratic erosion in Tunisia. The lawmakers condemned Tunisian President Kais Saied’s September 15 election law, expressed concern over food insecurity and deteriorating living conditions in Tunisia, and asked President Biden to consider sanctions on entities that have contributed to Tunisia’s political instability and corruption.

Foreign Affairs Leadership Issues Statement on Anniversary of Sudan Military Coup. On October 25, Senators Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Representatives Gregory Meeks (D-New York) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Chair and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement on the one-year anniversary of Sudan’s 2021 military coup expressing solidarity with the Sudanese people, who are seeking a democratic transition from military rule. The lawmakers called on Sudan’s military to relinquish power and to allow a civilian-led transition within a new constitutional framework.

Speaker Pelosi Condemns Iranian Drone Sales to Russia. After attending a conference advocating for Ukrainian independence and the return of Russian-annexed Crimea, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) denounced Iranian drone sales to Russia, saying that drones are “dangerous technology” and that Iran is making a “big mistake.”

Representative Cicilline Rejects UN Human Rights Report on Israel-Palestine. On October 26, Representative David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism, expressed concern over and rejected a 28-page report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which concludes that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory is unlawful under international law. Cicilline said that the commission was established “to cherry-pick and work to damage the Jewish State,” and argued that the report fails to recognize the role of Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

Democrats Raise Concern about Secretary Mnuchin’s Gulf Relations. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-New York), Chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, reportedly sent a letter expressing concern about former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s business dealings with royal families in Gulf Arab states. According to the lawmakers, Mnuchin’s quick transition to engaging in private business with Gulf families following his tenure as Trump’s treasury secretary “raises serious concerns about Mr. Mnuchin’s actions in office and whether his personal financial interest influenced US policy.” The lawmakers say that they are interested in pursuing action following an investigation, but Representative Maloney will leave office in January after having lost her primary, leaving the future of such action in doubt.

Lawmakers Call on Big Tech to Help Iranian Protesters. On October 28, Senators Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) and Representatives Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey) and Claudia Tenney (R-New York) sent a bipartisan, bicameral letter to the United States’ largest technology firms urging their executives to provide technological help to Iranian protesters who are facing government blackouts. In the letter, the lawmakers commended the Treasury Department’s issuing of General License D-2, which allows American companies to work in Iran despite existing sanctions.

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

White House Welcomes Saudi Assistance to Ukraine Amid Tensions. On October 25, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre acknowledged Saudi assistance to Ukraine amid recent tensions between the United States and Saudi Arabia, stating “We’ve taken note since the OPEC+ cut that Saudi Arabia voted against Russia at the United Nations and also pledged $400 million to support Ukraine’s reconstruction and humanitarian needs.” Jean-Pierre’s comments follow US criticism and claims that a recent OPEC+ decision to reduce oil production meant that Saudi Arabia was siding with Russia in its war against Ukraine. On October 26, Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the kingdom’s assistance to Ukraine, but noted that it does not compensate for the OPEC+ decision.

Israeli President Herzog Visits Washington. On October 25, Israeli President Isaac Herzog arrived in Washington, DC to meet with US officials in the White House and the State Department. At the White House on October 26, Herzog and President Biden discussed many aspects of the US-Israel relationship and regional security, including Iranian nuclear proliferation, a new Israel-Lebanon maritime agreement, and Israeli relations with neighboring states. President Biden also condemned a recent rise in antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment. Herzog further discussed these topics with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who expressed US concern over rising violence in the West Bank.

White House Announces That Biden Will Attend COP27 in Egypt. On October 28, the White House announced that President Biden will travel to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on November 11 for the COP27 climate conference. The announcement follows warnings from human rights organizations that the president’s attendance would demonstrate US support for gross human rights violations committed by the government of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.

Biden Administration Condemns Terrorist Attack in Somalia. On October 30, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan condemned a terrorist attack in Mogadishu, Somalia that killed an estimated 100 people and wounded 300 more. The statement condemned the targeting of the Somali Ministry of Education and reaffirmed US commitment to working with the Somali government to prevent terrorism.

2) Department of State

Secretary Blinken and President Biden Congratulate Lebanon and Israel on Concluding Maritime Boundary Negotiations. On October 27, Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated the governments of Lebanon and Israel following the signing of a maritime boundary agreement in Naqoura, Lebanon. On the agreement, Blinken said, “Equally beneficial to both Israel and Lebanon, it will strengthen the economic and security interests of Israel, while promoting critically needed foreign investment for the Lebanese people as they face a devastating economic crisis.” Blinken thanked Special Presidential Coordinator Amos Hochstein and his team at the State Department for their work in mediating the deal. The same day, President Biden congratulated all parties on the “historic agreement.”

State Department Issues Statement on Anniversary of Sudan Military Takeover. On October 24, for the one-year anniversary of Sudan’s 2021 military coup, the State Department issued a statement expressing support for the Sudanese people as they pursue a democratic, civilian-led government in the face of violence and suppression. Coming as Sudanese demonstrators took to the street this week demanding civilian rule, the statement rejected military governance and called for a civilian-led democratic transition.

US Mission to the UN Supports New Mechanism on Missing Syrians. On October 25, US Mission to the United Nations Spokesperson Nate Evans expressed support for a new UN Secretary-General report calling for a new UN mechanism focused on Syrian missing persons. Highlighting the plight of over 150,000 unjustly detained and forcibly disappeared persons in Syria, the statement said that the United States will work within the UN General Assembly to advance the new initiative.

State Department Designates Syrian Military Officials for Ghouta Attack. On October 24, the State Department designated three Syrian military officials, Brigadier General Adnan Aboud Hilweh, Major General Ghassan Ahmed Ghannam, and Major General Jawdat Saleebi Mawas, for their involvement in the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons on civilians. All three officials were involved in the 2013 Ghouta chemical weapons attack, in which Bashar al-Assad’s forces launched sarin gas into a Damascus suburb, killing at least 1,400 civilians. The designation denies the men and their families entry to the United States. The State Department statement also condemned the use of chemical weapons and called on the Syrian government to end its chemical weapons program.

State Department Expresses Support for Iraqi Government Formation. On October 27, the State Department issued a statement congratulating Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani on the formation of the new Iraqi government and expressed support for the new prime minister’s goal to regulate weapons and to preserve national security and stability.

Secretary Blinken Calls Kuwaiti Foreign Minister. On October 27, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Salem Abdullah al-Sabah, congratulating him on his new government position and reiterating the United States’ commitment to its bilateral partnership with Kuwait.

US and Israel Host Joint Political-Military Group. On October 25, State Department officials welcomed an Israeli military delegation led by retired Major General Amir Eshel, which traveled to Washington for the 48th US-Israel Joint Political-Military Group. The leaders engaged in a dialogue regarding Israeli security, relations with Arab states, rising violence in the West Bank, the regional threat posed by Iran, and opportunities facilitated by the Abraham Accords.

Secretary Blinken Calls UAE President. On October 26, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to discuss partnerships between the United States and the UAE, as well as other regional matters. Secretary Blinken also thanked Al Nahyan for the UAE’s role in securing the release of Baquer Namazi, a US citizen who was imprisoned in Iran.

Ambassador Wood Speaks at UN Security Council Briefing on Syria. On October 25, US Alternative Representative to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs Robert Wood spoke at a UN Security Council briefing on Syria. In his remarks, Ambassador Wood expressed the United States’ concern over intensified fighting in northwest Syria, terrorism, and a growing cholera epidemic that is exacerbating the humanitarian situation. Wood also criticized Russia’s decision to block a 12-month extension of a cross-border mandate for humanitarian operations, calling the decision a “cruel political calculation.” In addition, Wood rejected the Russian representative’s accusation that the United States is pursuing hydrocarbon interests in Syria.

Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Africa Focus Group Meets in Niger. On October 27, the United States joined the governments of Morocco, Niger, and Italy in Niamey, Niger to discuss counterterrorism policies in Africa. The four states are the co-chairs of the Defeat ISIS Africa Focus Group, which was established in December 2021, and which aims to adapt counterterrorism experiences in Iraq and Syria to confront the so-called Islamic State and other terrorist organizations operating in Africa.

3) Department of Defense

AFCENT Commander Visits Israel. Head of US Air Forces Central (AFCENT) Alexus Grynkewich visited Israel this week, meeting with senior Israeli officials and visiting an Israeli Air Force unit that operates Arrow missile defense batteries as part of an Israeli-American Air Force cooperation program.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Department Announces New Protest-Related Sanctions in Iran. On October 26, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions on 10 Iranian officials, two intelligence actors, and two entities involved in the Iranian government’s violent suppression of nationwide protests following the death of Mahsa Amini. The sanctions target two senior leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, two officials in the provinces of Sistan and Baluchistan, six Iranian prison officials, two cyber actors within Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence, and one company involved in social media filtering during the protests.

Treasury Department Sanctions Iranian Foundation over Salman Rushdie Attack. On October 28, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions on the 15 Khordad Foundation, an Iranian organization that issued a multimillion-dollar bounty for the killing of British American novelist Salman Rushdie. In 1989, then Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued an order calling for Rushdie’s death, and the Treasury Department’s announcement states that 15 Khordad Foundation has promised millions of dollars to anyone willing to carry out the act. In August 2022, Rushdie was attacked in New York State by a 24-year-old Lebanese American man, and sustained injuries that have left him partially disabled.