Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Personnel and Correspondence

Speaker Pelosi Leads Congressional Delegation to COP27. On November 10, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) released a statement regarding her congressional delegation’s first day at the COP27 climate conference, during which the representatives met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. In their meetings, the delegation discussed the climate crisis with Egyptian officials and reaffirmed the strategic security partnership between the United States and Egypt. According to the statement, the delegation also discussed Egypt’s human rights record, although there is no indication that it raised the highly publicized case of Alaa Abd el-Fattah, a British-Egyptian activist who has been imprisoned in Egypt since 2019, and who is currently on a hunger strike.

Representative Khanna Calls for Release of Alaa Abd el-Fattah during COP27. On November 7, Representative Ro Khanna (D-California) called on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to free Alaa Abd el-Fattah, whose plight has garnered renewed international attention during the COP27 climate conference.

Democratic Candidate Summer Lee Defeats AIPAC-financed Republican in Pennsylvania House Race. Democratic candidate Summer Lee defeated Republican Mike Doyle for a seat in the House of Representatives in Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district, despite the fact that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other pro-Israel groups spent $4 million to support Doyle’s campaign. Lee drew criticism from many pro-Israel groups after tweeting her position that the statement “Israel has the right to defend itself” is used to justify the deployment of “indiscriminate and disproportionate force and power” on marginalized populations. Lee’s election was reportedly supported by liberal Zionist group J Street.

Representative Malinowski Loses Re-election Bid. Representative Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey), co-chair of the Egypt Human Rights Caucus and sponsor of recent legislation relating to the Middle East, lost his re-election bid to Republican Tom Kean Jr. In recent months, Malinowski introduced H.R. 9168, the Strained Partnership Act, to remove US troops from Saudi Arabia following a recent OPEC+ production cut, as well as H.Con.Res. 110, a resolution commending the bravery of Iranian protesters. He has also continuously called for the Biden administration to put pressure on Egypt over its human rights violations.

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

Biden Meets with Egyptian President at COP27. On November 11, President Biden met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the COP27 climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Biden congratulated Sisi on Egypt’s role as host of the conference, and the two leaders discussed the global climate crisis, the US-Egypt strategic partnership, and the effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine on Egypt. According to a White House statement, Biden “raised the importance of human rights” during the meeting, but there are no indications that he brought up the case of British Egyptian political prisoner Alaa Abd el-Fattah with President Sisi, despite pressure from numerous human rights organizations to do so. In remarks before the meeting, President Sisi discussed Egypt’s national strategy for human rights, and President Biden stated that he would like the United States and Egypt to continue a dialogue on human rights issues. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated on November 10 that Abd el-Fattah’s case was of “deep concern” and that the United States would “like to see him freed.”

Biden Administration Official Expresses Concern Over Potential Israeli Defense Minister. A senior Biden administration official reportedly said that the US-Israel bilateral relationship would be “hugely influenced” by the matter of who will be appointed as Israel’s next defense minister. Reports indicate that far-right politician Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionist Party, is a likely candidate for the position. If Smotrich were to become defense minister, he would oversee US-Israel defense cooperation and have the power to implement policies in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

President Biden Congratulates Benjamin Netanyahu on Electoral Victory. On November 7, President Biden called former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his party’s electoral victory last week. The two leaders discussed the bilateral US-Israel relationship and agreed to speak again following Israel’s government formation process.

President Biden Expresses Concern over Foreign Investment into Musk’s Ownership of Twitter. On November 9, President Biden expressed concern about Elon Musk’s relationship with foreign governments and his ownership of Twitter, stating, “I think that Elon Musk’s cooperation and/or technical relationships with other countries is worthy of being looked at.” Biden’s comments follow congressional criticism of Saudi investment in Twitter last week, in which Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) called for an investigation into Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud’s shares in the social media platform given the kingdom’s active suppression of free speech.

President Biden Extends National Emergency with Respect to Iran. On November 8, President Biden sent a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate President Kamala Harris extending a national emergency on Iran that was initially declared in 1979 with Executive Order 12170. In his letter, Biden stated that the failure to normalize relations with Iran and to implement a series of agreements from 1981 are reasons for the continuation of the national emergency.

White House Condemns Attack in Istanbul. On November 13, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned an attack in Istanbul, Turkey that killed six people. Turkey claims that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is behind the attack, and Turkish Minister of the Interior Suleyman Soylu dismissed messages of support from the United States, stating that the US is complicit in the violence due to its maintaining military ties with the armed wing of the PKK in Syria. On November 14, the PKK denied any involvement in the attack, saying that it does not target civilians.

Biden Administration Intelligence Officials Say the UAE Meddled in US Politics. The National Intelligence Council has reportedly compiled a report demonstrating that the United Arab Emirates has attempted to influence US foreign policy during multiple US administrations. Officials say that the UAE has worked to exploit vulnerabilities in US governance to ensure favorable US foreign policy. The report adds to concerns raised in a Washington Post report on the role that active and retired US military personnel play as advisors to the Emirati military.

2) Department of State

State Department Condemns Israeli MP Ben-Gvir’s Attendance at Kahane Memorial. US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price condemned Israeli Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir’s attendance at a memorial for Meir Kahane, a far-right Israeli rabbi who called for the mass expulsion of Palestinians and who founded the Kach Party, a designated terrorist organization, a member of which killed 29 Palestinians in the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in Hebron. When asked about Ben-Gvir’s attendance, Price stated, “Celebrating the legacy of a terrorist organization is abhorrent.” Price’s comments follow recent reports that Ben-Gvir may gain a ministerial role in a new Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ambassador Nides Says US Will Reject any Israeli Annexation Plans. On November 10, US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides said that the United States “will push back against any attempt at annexation” under a new Israeli government. Nides’ comments follow reports that Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right Religious Zionist Party and a supporter of the annexation of the West Bank, is jockeying to become Israel’s next Minister of Defense in a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Secretary Blinken Praises Israel-Qatar Flight Cooperation Ahead of the World Cup. On November 10, Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Israel, Qatar, and FIFA for taking the historic step of opening direct flights between Tel Aviv, Israel, and Doha for the upcoming World Cup. Blinken stated that the flights are an important step in the Biden administration’s goal of building regional integration in the Middle East. In response to questions regarding the the flights, a Qatari official said that the agreement “is part of Qatar’s commitment to FIFA’s hosting requirements and it should not be politicized,” maintaining that the flights do not change Qatar’s stance toward Israel.

US Envoy Norland Pushes for Elections in Libya. On November 10, US Special Envoy to Libya, Richard Norland, met with Libyan officials in Tripoli to address ways to resolve the country’s current constitutional crisis and to create a base for parliamentary and presidential elections, which have been on hold since last December. Norland also met with Chief of Staff of the Army of the Libyan Government of National Unity General Mohamed al-Haddad and urged the Libyan military to unify and to free itself from foreign influence.

US Representative to UNHRC Calls on Tunisia to Hold Free and Fair Elections. On November 8, US Permanent Representative to the UN Human Rights Council Michèle Taylor called on the Tunisian government to hold free and fair elections this December and to “bring dissenting voices back into reform processes.” At the council, Taylor called for the separation of powers, judicial independence, the end of civilian prosecution in military courts, and the repeal of Decree Law 54, which undermines freedom of expression.

US Warns Lebanon against Accepting Fuel from Iran. The United States has reportedly warned Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati that the United States will sanction any free fuel that Lebanon receives from Iran. The warning follows air strikes on Iranian tankers in Syria that were transporting fuel to Lebanon, which Iran has accused the United States of carrying out.

US Citizen Killed in Baghdad. On November 8, the US Embassy in Baghdad identified an American citizen who was killed in Iraq on November 7 as Stephen Edward Troell. Troell, who was shot while driving through Baghdad’s Karrada district, managed a local English learning institute through the Texas-based aid group Millennium Relief and Development Services. Iraqi security officials believe that Troell’s killers were attempting to kidnap him.

Assistant Secretary Noyes Travels to Jordan. On November 13, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Julieta Valls Noyes traveled to Amman, Jordan to lead a delegation to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s Advisory Commission. Noyes will meet with Jordanian officials and nongovernmental organizations to discuss both the refugee response in Jordan and US humanitarian assistance. She will also visit Palestinian and Syrian refugee camps and schools to hear first-hand accounts from refugees in Jordan.

Senior US Officials Join President Biden at COP27. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power joined President Biden at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. At the conference, Secretary Blinken and President Biden urged governments to uphold their climate commitments and to be conscious of the 1.5°C global warming limit outlined in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Administrator Power also attended bilateral meetings to discuss USAID’s commitment to mobilizing resources and providing foreign assistance in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Special Envoy Lenderking Travels to the UAE and Saudi Arabia. On November 8, Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking returned from a trip to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, where he met with Emirati, Saudi, and Yemeni senior officials to discuss UN-led peace efforts in Yemen. The officials expressed support for a Yemeni-led political process and denounced recent Houthi attacks on maritime shipping.

US Woman Detained and Released in Saudi Arabia Guardianship Case. On November 7, Carly Morris, a US citizen involved in a guardianship case in Saudi Arabia since 2019, was detained by Saudi authorities and placed in a prison outside of Buraydah after being accused of “disrupting public order.” Morris traveled to the kingdom in 2019 with her daughter Tala to visit her ex-husband’s family. However, he seized their travel documents and refused to give Tala permission to leave the country, which is his right under Saudi guardianship laws. In September 2022, Morris was subjected to a travel ban after criticizing the guardianship laws on Twitter. On November 8, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price stated that the US Embassy in Riyadh is “very engaged” in the case.

US Man Arrested in the UAE over Call to Protest at COP27. Egyptian American Sherif Osman was reportedly arrested by UAE authorities on November 6 upon his arrival in the country to visit family. Osman is a former Egyptian Army officer and one of three Egyptian exiles who was calling for anti-government protests to take place on November 11 during the COP27 climate conference. Activists fear that the UAE will hand Osman over to Egyptian authorities.

US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Travels to the UAE. From November 7 to 10, US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain traveled to the UAE. During his visit, Hussain was scheduled to deliver remarks at the 9th Assembly of the Abu Dhabi Forum for Peace and to meet with civil society leaders, government officials, and nongovernmental organizations.

State Department Announces Strategic Dialogue with Oman. On November 8, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Omani Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Albusaidi. The two discussed regional security and bilateral relations between the United States and Oman, and US officials thanked Albusaidi for Oman’s role in the Yemeni peace process and for securing the release of US citizen Baquer Namazi from imprisonment in Iran. The leaders also announced plans for a new strategic dialogue, which will meet regularly to advance shared US-Omani goals, and will include working groups focused on educational and cultural exchange, trade, and renewable energy.

US Ambassador to Israel Visits Allenby Border Crossing. On November 8, US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides visited the Allenby border crossing between Israel and Jordan. Nides’ visit was meant to ensure that Israel is operating the crossing 24 hours a day, in accordance with an agreement reached during President Biden’s July visit to the country. The Allenby crossing allows Palestinians in the West Bank to travel abroad using Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport, and is therefore a crucial border crossing whose extended operation will offer Palestinians greater freedom of travel. Twenty-four-hour operations at the crossing began as a pilot program on October 24, after being postponed several times by Israeli authorities and after also facing opposition from the head of the Israel Airports Authority. Nides stated that he believes that freedom of movement is essential to peace and expressed aims to increase cargo shipping operations across the border.

3) Department of Defense

US Delivers Three F-35 Fighter Jets to Israel. On November 10, the US military delivered three new F-35 jets to an Israeli air base in the Negev. With this transfer, the United States has now sent 36 of a total of 50 F-35s that Israel has agreed to purchase from US defense contractor Lockheed Martin, the balance of which are expected to be delivered by 2024. Lockheed Martin’s F-35 jet was reportedly used in Israel’s aerial bombardments of Gaza in 2014 and 2021.

Defense Security Cooperation Agency Announces Potential Weapons Sale to Oman. On November 9, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced that the State Department has approved a potential $385 million sale of 48 Joint Stand Off Weapons to Oman. The agency notified Congress of the sale, as required by law.

Secretary Austin Speaks with Qatari Defense Minister. On November 8, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Defense Affairs Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah to reaffirm the US-Qatar defense partnership. Secretary Austin thanked his counterpart for Qatar’s hosting US forces at Al-Udeid Air Base and wished his government luck with its hosting of the upcoming World Cup.

Pentagon Hosts 12th US-Morocco Defense Consultative Committee. On November 7 and 8, the Department of Defense hosted the 12th US-Morocco Defense Consultative Committee at the Pentagon, co-chaired by Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl and Inspector General of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces Belkhir El Farouk. The meetings focused on security cooperation, interoperability, intelligence capacity, peacekeeping, and Morocco’s role as a regional security leader.

US-Led Maritime Coalition Hosts Stakeholders Conference in Bahrain. On November 8, the US-led International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) held a stakeholders conference at the US 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain. During the conference, panelists participated in sessions on maritime security, industry partnerships, and innovation. The IMSC was established in 2019 in response to an increase in threats to freedom of navigation in international waters around the Middle East.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Department Announces Sanctions Targeting IS Cell in South Africa. On November 7, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the imposition of sanctions on four members of a South African cell of the so-called Islamic State (IS), as well as on eight companies affiliated with the individuals. The announcement cites a July 2022 UN Security Council report that demonstrates the emerging importance of South Africa as a hub for IS funds transfers between leadership and affiliates.

Treasury Department Announces Sanctions Targeting al-Qaeda Business Partners. On November 9, the Treasury Department announced sanctions on two individuals who are business associates of Ahmed Luqman Talib, a previously-sanctioned al-Qaeda financial facilitator and external operations plotter. The sanctions targeted Mohamad Irshad Mohamad Haris Nizar and Musab Turkmen, who worked with Talib.

5) US Agency for International Development

USAID Administrator Power Visits Lebanon. On November 8, USAID Administrator Samantha Power arrived in Lebanon for a three-day visit focused on Lebanon’s humanitarian situation and protracted political crisis. During her trip, Power announced $72 million in emergency food assistance to Lebanon, which will be distributed through the United Nations World Food Program. The aid package will include food parcels and food vouchers for Syrian refugees to use at local shops and to stimulate the local economy, thereby providing assistance to 650,000 people. Power also promised $8.5 million in funding for 22 solar-powered water pumping projects that will serve more than 150 Lebanese towns and villages. On November 10, Power announced the provision of $50 million in funding for higher education to support financially disadvantaged students attending university in Lebanon.