Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

1) Legislation

Rep. Deutch Introduces Bill Condemning Iran. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Florida) introduced H.Res.744 condemning Iran for its persecution of the minority Bahai community, in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Rep. McCollum Introduces Bill Regarding Palestinian Organizations. On October 28, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota) introduced a bill in the House that calls for condemning Israel’s designation of six Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organizations. McCollum has for years worked with one of the designees, Defense for Children International, and has been a defender of Palestinian rights on Capitol Hill.

GOP Blocks Reopening of US Consulate in Jerusalem. On October 26, Senator Bill Hagerty (R-Tennessee) introduced S.2063, a bill that blocks the use of funds to reopen the US diplomatic facility in Jerusalem apart from the US embassy in Israel. Hagerty was joined by 35 Republican cosponsors who argue that President Joe Biden’s plans to reopen a US consulate that serves as a liaison to the Palestinians violate the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 (S.1322). In a statement, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), argued that Biden’s plan “divides Jerusalem” and undermines the Israeli government’s authority.

2) Nominations

Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Pushes Ahead with Nominations. After multiple Republican attempts to block President Biden’s nominees, the Senate confirmed a handful of appointees this week. Among them is former Senator Jeffry Lane Flake (R-Nebraska) to be ambassador to the Republic of Turkey. The Senate confirmed Flake by a voice vote on October 26.

3) Personnel and Correspondence

Representatives Express Concern over US Arms Sales to Turkey. Led by Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-New York) and Carolyn Maloney (D-New York), 11 members of the House authored a bipartisan letter to President Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken regarding pending arms sales to Turkey. The letter responds to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s request to purchase 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets and 80 F-16 modernization kits from the US government. In a press release from Rep. Malliotakis’s office regarding the letter, she emphasized Turkey’s threat to US national security. Erdoğan’s request comes after a period of mounting tensions between the United States and Turkey, which appear to be de-escalating over recent weeks.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

President Biden Calls for End to the Sudan Coup. On October 28, President Joe Biden issued a statement in which he called for the return of the civilian-led transitional government in Sudan. He also appealed for the protection of peaceful demonstrations and the release of all detainees.

2) State Department

State Department Suspends Sudan Emergency Assistance. Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement condemning the military coup in Sudan and demanding the release of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. He also announced that the United States is suspending the $700 million emergency assistance that was supposed to help Sudan’s transition to democracy. US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman, who had been in Khartoum a day before the coup, told NPR in an interview that there were tensions between the military and civilian members of the government, but that he did not think that they would lead to a coup.

Relatedly, during October 26-27, Secretary Blinken held telephone conversations with the following officials: Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok after he was released from custody by the military in Khartoum; Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi; African Union Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat; and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. His discussions sent a special message that the United States rejects the military coup in Khartoum and calls for a return to civilian rule and the commitment to the constitutional process agreed to by Sudanese leaders in 2019.

US Congratulates Iraq on Its Elections. On October 25, the State Department issued a statement congratulating Iraq on holding parliamentary elections. The statement also condemned threats of violence against the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq and the Independent High Electoral Commission and expressed the US desire to work with the new Iraqi government once it is formed.

Israeli Team Coming to US to Discuss Closure of Palestinian Organizations. A team from Israel’s foreign ministry and its internal security service, the Shin Bet, will be sent to the United States to present evidence to American officials supporting the suspension of six Palestinian human rights organizations. Israel has accused them of being “terrorist” organizations. While State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that the United States had no foreknowledge of the Israeli decision, journalist Barak Ravid broke the news that the Shin Bet indeed informed Biden Administration officials of the designation before it was announced.

Biden Administration Protests New Israeli Settlements. On October 26, Axios reported that Biden Administration officials protested to Israel the latter’s announcement about building more than 3,000 new settlement units in the occupied West Bank. Michael Ratney, the top US official in Israel, said that the objection was specifically because the units would be built deep inside the West Bank, thus endangering prospects for a two-state solution.

Still, on October 27, Reuters reported that Israel will go ahead with the project despite Biden Administration protestations. An Israeli planning forum gave final approval to build some 1,800 units and allowed the preliminary steps for another 1,344. It is up to Defense Minister Benny Gantz to give the ultimate approval, a situation that threatens the current coalition government in Israel because some of the members oppose the move.

Joint US-Bahrain Statement about Looted Art. On October 28, the United States and Bahrain issued a joint statement about cooperation on combatting criminal activities in the art and antiquities market. The statement highlighted the two countries’ alarm about the “growing evidence of antiquities looting and trafficking, as well as money laundering and terrorist financing in the wider art market.”

US Jerusalem Consulate Will Have Municipal Services. In an interesting twist, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said that if the US consulate in Jerusalem is opened, it will have all the services it needs. This contradicts speculation that water and electricity services would not be provided to the building if the Biden Administration opens the consulate despite Israel’s objections.

3) Defense Department

Responsibility Murky for Attack on al-Tanf Last Week. John Kirby, spokesperson for the Defense Department, refused to acknowledge that the attack on the American al-Tanf base in Syria on October 20 was Iran-sponsored. But news media affiliated with Iran and its friendly militias touted the attack as successful and promised more of the same.

US Department of Defense Supports Drone Sale to Qatar. NBC News reported that the Pentagon is in favor of selling armed drones to Qatar worth more than $500 million. Qatar has been very helpful to the United States during the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the evacuation of Americans and allies from the country. The report, however, mentions some hesitancy from the State Department because of the impact that sale might have on relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

US CENTCOM Kills al-Qaeda Commander. On October 21, CENTCOM announced that a US drone strike in northwestern Syria killed an al-Qaeda commander, Abdul Hamid al-Matar. The action came about a month after a drone strike killed Salim Abu-Hamad, another al-Qaeda operative, in Idlib.

US Defense Delegation Visits Turkey. A US delegation from the Pentagon visited Turkey on October 27 to patch up relations, following the end of Turkey’s involvement in the F-35 program in September. Also on October 27, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III spoke by telephone with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar to discuss long-standing bilateral defense ties between the two countries.

4) Treasury Department

Treasury Imposes Sanctions on Lebanese Individuals. The US Department of the Treasury (DoT) sanctioned two Lebanese businessmen and a member of parliament for contributing to the breakdown of governance and the rule of law in Lebanon; this was pursuant to Executive Order 13441 that related to violations of the rule of law in the country. Jihad al-Arab was sanctioned for offering kickbacks and bribes for the purpose of winning government contracts. Dany Khoury is a close associate of parliamentarian and former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and was sanctioned for not delivering on contracts he won because of his association with the latter. Parliamentarian Jamil Sayyed was sanctioned for skirting banking laws and illegally transferring $120 million out of the country with the help of a Lebanese official.

US Designates Libyan a Violator of Human Rights. The US government designated a Libyan national, Osama al-Kuni Ibrahim, a violator of human rights of migrants in Libya. Ibrahim operates a migrant shelter in al-Zawiya where he or his subordinates violated the rights of migrants through “killings, sexual violence, and beatings.” His designation was pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13726, issued by President Barack Obama, resulting from “serious human rights abuses against migrants in Libya.”

Treasury Sanctions IRGC Drone Program and Individuals. On October 29, DoT also sanctioned companies and individuals involved in the drone program of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. Treasury accused the force of dispensing deadly drones to Hezbollah, Hamas, Kataeb Hezbollah, the Houthis, and the country of Ethiopia. According to the department’s press release, deadly drones have been used against international shipping and US forces.