Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

Congress was not in session last week.

Personnel and Correspondence

House Democratic Members Write to Blinken about Settlement Building. Twenty-five House Democratic members, led by Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin), wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing their concern about Israel’s plan to build 3,400 housing units in area E.1 near Jerusalem. They said that such a project would “diminish the viability of a contiguous Palestinian state” and threaten the so-called two-state solution.

House Republicans Want Biden Commitment on Iran Sanctions. Led by Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wisconsin), a group of House Republicans wrote a letter to President Joe Biden demanding assurances that the administration will not lift human rights sanctions on Iran as part of a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic. They also demanded that the administration turn over information about what it is doing to hold Iran accountable for human rights violations.

HFAC Members Urge Action against Houthis in Yemen. Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Gregory Meeks (D-New York) and Ranking Member Michael McCaul (R-Texas) wrote a letter to Secretary Blinken regarding the Houthis’ breach of the US embassy in Sanaa and the detainment of Locally Employed Staff (LES). Meeks and McCaul urged Blinken to take action against the Houthis and Iran and use “all available leverage” to secure the release of the detainees. They also thanked Oman for its support in securing the release of some of them.

Congressional Delegation Visits Lebanon. On November 20, Representatives Darrell Issa (R- California) and Ray LaHood (R-Illinois) as well as the president and CEO of the American Task Force for Lebanon and former US ambassador, Edward Gabriel, visited Lebanon, where they met with President Michel Aoun and other officials. After their fact-finding mission, they were to report to Congress and President Biden on ways to help Lebanon address its current troubles.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

Biden Releases Strategic Oil Reserve. President Biden ordered the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the US strategic reserve to help address the recent rise in oil prices in the United States. The White House action is bound to affect whether OPEC+ nations and other oil producers decide to increase or reduce their output of the crude during the next few months.

2) State Department

Blinken Congratulates Lebanon on Independence Day. Secretary Blinken issued a statement congratulating Lebanon on its independence day on November 22 and pledging American assistance at this time in the country’s history.

Blinken Calls Sudan’s Burhan and Hamdok. Secretary Blinken talked on the phone separately with Sudan’s Sovereign Council President Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan and newly released Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. He called for the immediate release of all those arrested by the military authorities and encouraged both leaders to work hard to implement the new agreement they signed on November 21.

Blinken Meets with Morocco’s Bourita. Secretary Blinken met on November 22nd with Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita and expressed US support for Morocco’s autonomy plan for the Western Sahara, in effect confirming the decision by the Trump Administration to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the territory.

Kerry Travels to the UAE. Special Presidential Advisor John Kerry traveled to the United Arab Emirates on November 22 to witness the launching of Project Prosperity, an initiative that will help Jordan, Israel, and the UAE to adhere to the goals of the Paris Agreement and secure cooperation on water issues.

State Condemns Jerusalem Attack. The State Department condemned the November 21st attack in Jerusalem that killed one person and injured others. It is noteworthy that there was no US condemnation when Israeli occupation authorities arrested the gunman’s wife upon her return from Jordan, where she was visiting her sick mother. Other members of the gunman’s family were also arrested by way of guilt by association.

Blinken Talks to Tunisia’s Saied. Secretary Blinken talked by phone to Tunisia’s President Kais Saied to discuss and urge action on addressing that country’s political and economic problems.

United States Condemns Killings in Sudan. The United States condemned the killing of 15 protesters by security forces in Sudan on November 17. They were in addition to many other demonstrators killed since the October 25th coup.

HRW and Others Criticize US-Egypt Strategic Dialogue. Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations sent a letter to Secretary Blinken criticizing the outcome of the US-Egypt Strategic Dialogue. They said that the statement issued after the meetings barely mentioned the poor state of human rights in Egypt and showed that the Biden Administration is not committed to what it preaches about defending such rights in its foreign policy.

Thomas-Greenfield Urges Formation of Iraqi Government. US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said at a UN Security Council session on November 24 that Iraq must soon form a new government “without fear, intimidation or threat of violence.” Pro-Iran Shia political parties have raised objections to the results of the last parliamentary elections when they lost a large number of seats, and they are delaying the certification of the vote and thus the formation of a new government.

US Official Heads to UNRWA Advisory Committee Meeting. State Department official Nancy Izzo Jackson is traveling in Jordan to attend the advisory committee meeting of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. She is in Jordan from November 27 to December 2. According to the department’s statement about the trip, Jackson will also underscore the United States’ commitment to refugee communities and their Jordanian hosts.

3) Defense Department

Austin Meets with UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III met on November 21 with Abu Dhabi, UAE, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) and discussed US-UAE bilateral relations. He also thanked MbZ for the UAE’s assistance in the US evacuation from Afghanistan.

US Forces Attacked in Syria. On November 23, US Central Command reported that US and coalition troops in the Kharab al-Jir military base in Syria were attacked with rockets by unknown assailants. No injuries were reported.

US Affirms Position on Withdrawal from Iraq. Newsweek has reported that the United States confirmed its position about withdrawing combat forces from Iraq by the end of December. But other US troops will remain in the country in “an advising, assisting, and intelligence-sharing role.” This came after pro-Iran Shia militia complained that the United States is not drawing down its troops in Iraq. 

4) Treasury Department

Treasury Expands Syrian NGOs’ Work. The Treasury Department expanded the general license authorization for nongovernmental organizations engaged in humanitarian work in Syria. This work includes basic human needs, democracy promotion, education, and protection and preservation of cultural sites.