Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

Congress was on recess last week.

Personnel and Correspondence

House Democrats’ Joint Statement on Weapons Sales to Saudi Arabia. Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), James P. McGovern (D-Massachusetts), Adam Schiff (D-California), Sara Jacobs (D-California), Colin Allred (D-Texas), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), and Andy Kim (D-NJ) issued a joint statement regarding the State Department’s notification of arms sales to Saudi Arabia sent to Congress earlier this month. Saudi Arabia requested arms totaling $650 million, including two hundred eighty AIM-120C-7/C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM), and the State Department approved the sale, claiming it is essential to securing US national interests in the Middle East and preserving the amicable relationship between the two nations. The representatives expressed their disapproval of the deal in their statement, considering Saudi Arabia’s key role in escalating Yemen’s civil war. Instead, the letter urged the administration to freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia and focus on mitigating airstrikes in Yemen.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) tweeted, supporting the statement and emphasizing the importance of the Arms Sale Oversight Act (H.R.5798) that Reps. Omar, Jacobs, and Ted Lieu reintroduced in the House. The bill aligns House procedures with Senate procedures on arms sales oversight as established by the Arms Export Control Act. The renewed push for Congressional oversight on weapons sales abroad follows controversial negotiations with Turkey and now Saudi Arabia, as many argue that these countries violate global human rights.

Tlaib Demands that US End Israel’s Killings of Palestinians. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) demanded that the United States should stop aiding Israel’s killing of Palestinian children. This came after Israel killed a 13-year-old Palestinian child from a refugee camp in Nablus in the occupied West bank.

Rep. McGovern Writes to Blinken. Rep. McGoven (D-Massachusetts) sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing his concern about the Israeli government’s decision to designated six Palestinian human rights groups terrorist organizations. McGovern asked Blinken about what actions the State Department has undertaken to investigate the matter and report back to him.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

President Biden Condemns Attack on Iraqi Prime Minister. President Joe Biden issued a statement on November 7th condemning the assassination attempt on the life of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. The president pledged American assistance to Iraq’s security forces in their investigation of the attack on Kadhimi.

President Biden Extends National Emergency Regarding Iran. President Biden extended for an additional year beyond November 14 the national emergency regarding Iran. According to a White House statement, the extension came because relations with Iran have not yet normalized. The original emergency was declared on November 14, 1979, in Executive Order 12170.

Hochstein Pressures Lebanon and Israel. President Biden’s Energy Envoy Amos Hochstein threatened Lebanon and Israel that if he cannot secure a settlement of their maritime border dispute by next March, he will end his mission. The two countries have been at loggerheads about demarcating their maritime border since large oil and gas reserves have been discovered off their Mediterranean coasts.

2) State Department

Lenderking in Yemen. US Special Envoy for Yemen Timothy Lenderking visited Aden and met with Yemeni government officials, including Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed and Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, as well as representatives of civil society organizations. The US delegation urged Yemeni officials to work toward uniting their efforts to end the war and implement needed reforms.

Blinken and Shoukry Reconvene US-Egypt Strategic Dialogue. Secretary Blinken held a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry as part of the US-Egypt Strategic Dialogue. Discussion included Middle East regional security and affairs as well as bilateral relations. According to a readout about the meeting, Blinken expressed American commitment to Egypt’s water needs but also to advocation for human rights in Egypt.

US Concerned about Abdullah bin Zayed Visit to Damascus. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that the United States is concerned about the visit by UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed to Syria. The United States still opposes normalizing relations with the Syrian regime or rehabilitating it because of the atrocities it committed against the Syrian people.

Malley Back to the Middle East. The State Department announced that Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley will visit the UAE, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain with an interagency team between November 11 and 20. The visit will be to coordinate with partners about concerns regarding Iran’s regional role and the upcoming nuclear talks. This would be different from the pre-2015 period when the United States did not consult with its partners in the region about negotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran.

Blinken Hosts the 4th US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue. Secretary Blinken hosted his Qatari counterpart Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani with a Qatari delegation for the 4th annual US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue. Discussions will cover defense cooperation and security, counterterrorism, human trafficking, and other issues of mutual concern.

Qatar Will Protect US Interests in Afghanistan. A senior US official has told Reuters that the United States and Qatar have agreed that the Gulf country will represent American interests in Afghanistan. A section of the Qatari embassy in Kabul will be dedicated to facilitating and coordinating American affairs related to citizens, passports, and consular services.

US and Europe Express Concern about Sudan. The United States joined European countries in expressing concern about the latest move by the leader of the Sudanese coup General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan to appoint a new Sovereignty Council. The group urged Sudanese security services to refrain from attacking peaceful protesters in Khartoum.

US Embassy in Sanaa Breached. A State Department spokesperson announced that the closed US embassy compound in Sanaa, Yemen, was breached by Houthi militiamen who detained some security guards who monitored the facility from the outside. The spokesperson said that the State Department has demanded the release of those detained and the return of all seized property.

3) Defense Department

Defense Department Announces New Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon announced that the United States will be selling Saudi Arabia $650 million worth of medium range air-to-air missiles. This is the first sale following President Biden’s suspension of all offensive weapons sales to the kingdom earlier this year.

Iran Says It Warned Off US Drones. According to a report on November 9 by an Iranian official broadcaster, Iran’s armed forces warned off US drones near military exercises that were conducted around the Strait of Hormuz. There was no official response from the US military. Meanwhile, the US Navy had announced that it conducted live fire exercises in the Arabian Gulf November 4 to 6 to test a guided missile system.

CENTCOM, Partners Exercise in the Red Sea. US Central Command announced that the Fifth Fleet conducted a five-day naval exercise in the Red Sea with Israeli, Emirati, and Bahraini ships to test interoperability between interdiction teams. This was the first such collaboration between Israeli and Gulf navies since the UAE and Bahrain normalized relations with Israel last year.

4) Justice Department

FBI Releases New 9/11 Documents. The Federal Bureau of Investigation released a new batch of documents related to its investigation of whether Saudi officials in the embassy in Washington helped participants in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. The documents provide no additional evidence that any embassy employees helped the hijackers.

Federal Judge Freezes Suit against Haftar. A federal judge in Virginia suspended the trial of Libyan General Khalifa Haftar who is being sued for committing torture and war crimes against civilians during his military operations. The judge cited his current run for president in Libya as a reason for freezing the case.

5) US Commission for International Religious Freedom

Religious Freedom in Egypt Slowly Improving. USCIRF released a report regarding the state of “Religious Freedom in Egypt in 2021.” While the Commission commends the country’s first publication of the “National Human Rights Strategy” report back in September, USCIRF urges the Egyptian government to institute more significant and tangible reforms. USCIRF previously recommended in its 2021 Annual Report that the US State Department add Egypt to its Special Watch List for religious freedom violations, and the commission still urges the US to encourage the Egyptian government to take concrete action, such as making foreign aid dependent on “human rights improvements.”