Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

1) Legislation

Sen. Kennedy Proposes Bill on Palestinian Curricula. Senator John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) introduced S.3209 (the Peace and Tolerance in Palestinian Education Act) that would require the secretary of state to report to the Senate and the House on curricula used in schools under Palestinian Authority control or in the Gaza Strip. The bill indicates that Palestinians have not done enough to change school curricula, which the senator says encourage violence and intolerance.

Congress Makes Bipartisan Effort to Halt Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia. On November 19, Senators Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) introduced a joint resolution (S.J.Res.31) to block US arms sales to Saudi Arabia. In a statement, Senator Paul explained that the United States needs to send a clear message that it does not support Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. Earlier this month, the State Department notified Congress about a possible $650 million sale of AIM-120C Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles to Saudi Arabia.

Last week, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) introduced a similar resolution in the House of Representatives, and seven House Democrats issued a joint statement condemning the transaction. Despite clear congressional disapproval, the Biden Administration may still go through with the sale.

House Remembers 2019 Iranian Massacre. Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-Minnesota) introduced a House resolution (H.Res.800) recognizing the second anniversary of the “November 2019 massacre” in Iran and condemning the Islamic Republic’s continuing human rights violations. Furthermore, Hagedorn urged the Department of State to restore the death toll number to 1,500, according to a Reuters article from that time, after it was lowered by the Biden Administration to 304 earlier this year. Thirty-six colleagues joined Hagedorn in supporting this resolution.

Republicans Continue to Thwart Reopening US Jerusalem Consulate. Republican congressmen continued their efforts to block the reopening of the US consulate in Jerusalem that would deal with Palestinian affairs. On November 17, Rep. David Kustoff (R-Tennessee) introduced the Upholding the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Law Act of 2021 (H.R.6004), a bill to prohibit the use of funds for opening any other diplomatic facility in Jerusalem other than the preexisting US embassy to the State of Israel. Kustoff’s bill is similar to the Senate’s S.3063, introduced by Senator Bill Hagerty (R-Tennessee) earlier this month. Both pieces of legislation claim the Biden Administration’s plan to reopen the consulate undermines Israel’s authority and violates the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 (S.1322) that designated the US embassy to Israel as the sole diplomatic facility in Jerusalem. A press release from Rep. Kustoff claimed that H.R.6004 is essential to supporting the United States’ “greatest friend and ally in the Middle East.”

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Activists Pressure Senators. Middle East Eye published a report on November 18 about 72 national and international human rights groups pressuring US senators to support an amendment proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2022. Sanders had proposed that the US comptroller general report to Congress about “the economic, humanitarian, political and psychological impact” of Israel’s policies on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

Sullivan Proposes Interim Deal with Iran. Axios published a report on November 17 about a proposal by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to his Israeli counterpart to reach an interim agreement with Iran about its nuclear program. The aim is to buy time for current negotiations with the Islamic Republic to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The report said that the proposal was originally advanced by European allies.

Biden Nominates Career Officer to Be Ambassador to Yemen. President Joe Biden nominated career foreign service officer Steven Fagin to be the United States’ ambassador to Yemen. Fagin has a long career in the State Department and has previously served in Baghdad and Erbil, Iraq. He also once headed the Office of Iranian Affairs at the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

Biden Congratulates Lebanon on Independence Day. President Biden congratulated Lebanese President Michel Aoun on the occasion of Lebanon’s Independence Day on November 22nd. Biden praised the long-standing US-Lebanese relations and affirmed American commitment to help Lebanon at this difficult time.

2) State Department

F-35 Sale to the UAE Will Move Forward. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mira Resnick told reporters on November 16 that the United States is going forward with the sale of advanced F-35 fighters to the United Arab Emirates. However, Resnick said that the Biden Administration wants to make sure that the UAE respects its obligations once it gets delivery of the planes. The United States has been worried about the UAE’s advanced relations with China which include communications and data networks as well as military technologies.  

US-GCC Iran Working Group Issues a Statement. According to a “Media Note” from the State Department, the US-GCC Working Group on Iran issued a statement after its meeting in Riyadh on November 17, affirming the strategic partnership between the United States and Gulf Arab countries. It condemned aggressive actions for which Iran is responsible in the region, such as providing missiles and drones to be used against Saudi Arabia and in the Sea of Oman. It also declared that Iran’s nuclear program is a grave danger.

On November 18, the United States also joined a meeting of three European countries—France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—with GCC countries plus Egypt and Jordan to discuss Iran and its regional activities, Iran’s nuclear program, and security concerns.

US Joins Ad Hoc Committee for Palestinian Assistance. On November 17, a US delegation headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary Hady Amr joined the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee that helps to address Palestinian economic development concerns. The committee meeting was hosted by Norway and attended by the Palestinian Authority, Israel, the European Union, and the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. The US delegation expressed the American “commitment to advance equal measures of prosperity, security and freedom for both Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Lenderking in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. US Special Envoy for Yemen Timothy Lenderking traveled to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on November 16 to discuss regional issues. Lenderking is also working on a sustained solution to the conflict in Yemen. On November 8, he visited Aden where he met with representatives from the Yemeni government and civil society.

Sherman Meets with Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister. According to a State Department readout, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met on November 15 with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll. Sherman repeated the US commitment to Israel’s security and affirmed that both Israelis and Palestinians “deserve equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and dignity.”

Thomas-Greenfield Travels to the Middle East. US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield traveled to the Middle East November 14-19 where she visited Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. In Israel, she met with President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan, and other officials and toured the Gaza and Lebanon borders. In Ramallah, she conferred with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who voiced his objection to Israel’s designation of Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organizations. And in Amman, she met with Jordanian Prime Minister and Defense Minister Bisher Al Khasawneh, who “stressed the importance of reaching a just, permanent and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue based on the two-state solution.”

3) Defense Department

 CENTCOM Confirms Errant Air Strike in Syria. US Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed an air strike near the village of Baghouz in Syria in March 2019, when the United States was fighting the so-called Islamic State. CENTCOM said that the strike was justified. The New York Times had published a report on November 13 which claimed that the US military wanted to keep the attack from public knowledge. From his side, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III said that the United States should do more to prevent civilian deaths in military operations.

Pentagon Hosts Turkish Defense Delegation. A US delegation met on November 16 at the Pentagon with a Turkish defense delegation and discussed issues of mutual concern, including cooperation on the Black Sea, counterterrorism, and regional security. While the Pentagon readout does not mention it, the delegations are expected to have discussed the ongoing—and so far, unresolved—issues of the Russian S-400 missiles and the American F-35 fighter jets.

CENTCOM Commander Meets with Qatar’s Army Chief. General Frank McKenzie conferred on November 16 with Qatar’s Armed Forces Chief of Staff Salem bin Hamad Al-Nabit. Discussions included defense cooperation and Qatar’s role in assisting in the Afghanistan evacuation.

Austin Travels to Bahrain, UAE. Defense Secretary Austin began a trip on November 19 to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. In Bahrain, he participated in the Manama Dialogue on security issues in the Middle East. In the UAE, Austin will discuss bilateral issues with officials. Relations with Iran are expected to figure prominently on the trip, during which the secretary will also meet US troops stationed in the two countries.

4) Treasury Department

 Adeyemo Travels to the Middle East. Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo traveled to the Middle East to visit Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and Israel to hold discussions on ways to cooperate on cybersecurity and ransomware. Treasury is worried about repeated cyberattacks on US networks, especially from Iran, and the use of digital currencies that could undermine economic sanctions regimes.

Additionally, the Department of the Treasury announced its partnership with the Israeli Ministry of Finance as part of the Biden Administration’s plan to counter ransomware attacks through international cooperation. The joint task force will work to “combat the cyber threats posed by nation-state and criminal actors to the global economy.” This announcement follows the Counter Ransomware Initiative meeting held at the White House between the European Union and 30 other countries, including Israel. A string of recent ransomware attacks targeting US corporations, along with an attack on the country’s largest oil pipeline in May, have raised government officials’ concerns and emphasized the importance of cybersecurity. The bilateral task force is part of President Biden’s ongoing efforts to counter ransomware.

Treasury Sanctions Iranians. On November 18, the Treasury Department sanctioned six Iranian nationals and one company, according to Executive Order 13848, “for attempting to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election.” The individuals are all associates of Emen Net Pasargad, the sanctioned cyber company.

Treasury Sanctions Houthi Military Commander. On November 18, the Treasury Department sanctioned the Houthi head of the logistics support organization, Saleh Mesfer Alshaer, for overseeing the expropriation of opponents’ properties, valued at some $100 million. Alshaer is accused of using extortion to fund the Houthis’ military campaign.

5) Department of Homeland Security

Mayorkas Meets with Israel’s Shaked. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas met in Washington on November 18 with Israel’s Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked. After the meeting, Shaked said that there is a good chance that Israelis will be able to travel to the United States without visas in 2023. From his side, Mayorkas tweeted that the United States will continue to work “with Israel to help it meet all Visa Waiver Program requirements.”