Washington Policy Weekly

 I. Congress

1) Legislation

Congressional Republicans Move to Designate Muslim Brotherhood as an FTO. On November 3rd, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Florida) introduced S.3151 and H.R.5840, respectively, in their legislative chambers. The bills urge the US secretary of state to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). In a statement released by Senator Cruz, he reprimands the Muslim Brotherhood’s “role in financing and promoting terrorism across the Middle East.”

S.3151 is the fourth time Senator Cruz and Rep. Diaz-Balart introduced the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act (S.2230 and H.R.3892 in 2015, S.68 and H.R.377 in 2017, S.4939 and H.R.2412 in 2019), and it was first introduced as H.R.5194 in 2014 by former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota).

Sens. Merkley and Shaheen Propose Amendment to NDAA. On November 1st, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) proposed Amendment 4068 to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2022. Merkley’s amendment asks that the secretary of state report within 180 days of the enactment of the NDAA on all aspects of Israeli settlement activities in the occupied West Bank. For her part, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) proposed Amendment 4125 to the NDAA to require the president to appoint an Executive Branch official to coordinate all matters related to Islamic State detainees in the custody of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

2) Nominations and Confirmations

Nides Confirmed as Ambassador to Israel. The Senate confirmed Morgan Stanley Managing Director Thomas R. Nides as the next US ambassador to Israel after his nomination was held up by Republicans for weeks. Other State Department officials were also confirmed.

SFRC Confirms Leaf. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) approved the nomination of Barbara Leaf to be Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Her nomination was held up by Republican members for weeks. According to SFRC Chairman Bob Menendez (D-Jew Jersey), many other ambassadorial nominations are being delayed, including those of Larry Andre Jr., to be posted to Somalia, and Elizabeth Aubin, to be posted to Algeria.

3) Personnel and Correspondence

Congressional Opposition to US Arms Sales to Turkey Mounts. Following up on Reps. Nicole Malliotakis’s (R-New York) and Carolyn Maloney’s (D-New York) bipartisan letter to President Joe Biden on October 25th regarding Turkey’s request for additional arms sales, on November 2nd, Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-Florida), Carolyn Maloney (D-New York), and Chris Pappas (D-New Hampshire) wrote another letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoing the worries of their colleagues regarding the sale of weapons to Turkey, which continues to violate US sanctions. The lawmakers also demanded information from the State Department regarding a Letter of Request on which it has declined to comment.

Additionally, SFRC Chairman Bob Menendez announced two foreign policy amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 (H.R.4350) that will “hold Turkey and Azerbaijan accountable.” The proposed amendments include tightening restrictions on government assistance to Azerbaijan and increasing the monitoring of the Turkish drone program and the use of US manufactured parts or technology within Turkish drone exports.

Bipartisan Leaders Urge Harsher Sanctions against Lebanon. On October 28th, the US Department of the Treasury issued sanctions against three Lebanese individuals for undermining the rule of law. In addition, on November 1st, SFRC Chairman Menendez and ranking member Jim Risch (R-Idaho) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen urging harsher sanctions on Lebanese groups. The senators suggest that the Biden Administration adopt sanctions similar to the European Union’s framework for targeted sanctions against individuals challenging the rule of law in Lebanon. Specifically, the senators’ letter demands sanctions against members or supporters of Hezbollah.

House Republicans Pen Letter to Biden Regarding Reopening Palestinian Consulate. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-New York) led 199 House Republican colleagues in writing a letter condemning President Biden’s plan to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem, where the US government would “provide separate diplomatic outreach” to Palestinians. The letter argues that the proposed reopening would divide Jerusalem and explicitly violate the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995.

Rep. Zeldin’s letter is a part of mounting criticism from Republican legislators regarding Biden’s foreign policy toward Israel, culminating in the proposed Jerusalem consulate reopening. In the upper chamber, on October 26th, Senator Bill Hagerty (R-Tennessee) introduced S.3063 to block funds for President Biden’s planned reopening of the consulate for Palestinians in East Jerusalem. The bill has 37 Republican cosponsors, including Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), who issued a statement arguing the plan would undermine the Israeli government’s authority.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

Biden Extends National Emergency with Respect to Sudan. In a letter to Congress, President Biden extended the national emergency regarding Sudan, which was declared in Executive Order 13067, beyond its end date of November 3, 2021. The president cited the current military take-over of government in Khartoum and the continuing situation of violations in Darfur as justification for the extension.

Biden Appoints Blind Lebanese American Special Advisor. President Biden appointed Sara Minkara to be US Special Advisor on International Disability Rights. Minkara will be in charge of US policy to protect and promote the rights of disabled people worldwide.

McGurk Discusses Pegasus Spyware with Israeli Official. Brett McGurk, top Biden advisor for the Middle East, met with Israeli Ministry of Defense official Zohar Palti and discussed the Pegasus spyware from the NSO Group that has been used by authoritarian governments against critics, journalists, and activists. Morocco and Saudi Arabia were discovered to have used it. Meanwhile, four Democratic House members—Tom Malinowski (New Jersey), Katie Porter (California), Anna Eshoo (California), and Joaquin Castro (Texas)—want the Biden Administration to consider imposing sanctions on the NSO Group for human rights violations.

On November 3rd, the US Department of Commerce sanctioned the company and another Israeli firm, Candiru, because of their engagement in “activities contrary to US foreign policy and national security.” One other Russian company and the Singapore-based Computer Security Initiative Consultancy were also sanctioned.

2) State Department 

Lenderking Back to Yemen. The State Department announced that the special envoy to Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, will travel to the Middle East to meet with government and regional officials as well as civil society actors. The visit comes as Houthi insurgents increase their military pressure on Marib in the center of the country.

Joint Statement on Sudan with Saudi Arabia, UAE, and UK. The United States joined Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom in issuing a statement that affirmed their commitment to support democracy in Sudan. The statement also called for the restoration of the “civilian-led transitional government and institutions” in that country and for the release of all who were detained in recent events.

Blinken Meets with Bin Zayed. Secretary of State Blinken met with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed on the margins of the climate conference in Glasgow. They discussed developments in Lebanon and Syria, Sudan, and in the energy markets. In Glasgow, Blinken also met with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Miqati and expressed continued US support for the people of Lebanon at this difficult time, while urging him to implement needed reforms and to work on holding next year’s parliamentary and presidential elections on time.

US Urges Gulf Countries to Restore Relations with Lebanon. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that the United States is urging the Gulf countries that cut off relations with Lebanon to restore them. Last week, GCC countries—except for Oman—issued stern condemnations of Information Minister George Kordahi’s criticism (which he voiced before being appointed) of Saudi Arabia’s conduct of the war in Yemen, and some withdrew their ambassadors from Beirut.

Blinken Speaks to Sudan’s Burhan and Hamdok. On November 4th, Secretary Blinken spoke by phone with Sudan’s coup leader, General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, and urged the release of all prisoners and a restoration of the civilian-led government. Blinken also spoke with Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, expressed continued American support for a restoration to civilian rule in the country, and underscored US commitment to the US-Sudan partnership.

US-Egypt Strategic Dialogue. Secretary Blinken will host his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, November 8-9 for a round of the US-Egypt Strategic Dialogue. According to a State Department readout, the dialogue will cover strengthening the partnership between the two countries, advancing human rights, and increasing economic and cultural ties.

US Condemns Assassination Attempt on Kadhimi. On November 7th, Secretary Blinken telephoned Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and condemned the assassination attempt on his life. Pointedly, Blinken spoke of the attack as an assault on Iraq’s sovereignty and stability and pledged American support for Iraq’s security services.

3) Defense Department

Austin Speaks with Israel’s Gantz. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III held a telephone conversation with Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The Department of Defense’s readout said that they discussed the US-Israel strategic relationship and cooperation on security threats. However, there could also be discussions between the two surrounding Gantz’s role in designating six Palestinian human rights and civil society organizations as terrorist and the United States’ decision to sanction the Israeli NSO Group.

Pentagon Denies Iranian Report. Defense Department officials denied an Iranian report that US Navy destroyers in the Gulf of Oman tried to commandeer an Iranian oil tanker’s cargo. Instead, the Pentagon said that the Navy was monitoring an Iranian seizure of a Vietnamese flagged oil tanker that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was holding.

Pentagon Hosts Lebanese Army Commander. On November 4th, acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Mara Karlin hosted Commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces General Joseph Aoun at the Pentagon. The two discussed military ties between the United States and Lebanon, specifically at this challenging time for the Lebanese army. Karlin expressed continued US support for the army, which acts as a unifying force in the country. Aoun also met with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and was to fly to Florida to meet with US Central Command (CENTCOM) chief General Frank McKenzie. While in Washington, Aoun also met with the White House National Security Council’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, Brett McGurk, as well as a delegation of congressional staffers.