Washington Policy Weekly

 I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Representatives Introduce REGIME Act Targeting Iranian Officials. On December 15, Representatives Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina), Josh Gottheimer (D-New Jersey), Claudia Tenney (R-New York) and Vincente Gonzalez (D-Texas) introduced H.R.9606, the Revoking Entry Granted to Iranian Mullahs and Elites Act of 2022, or the REGIME act, which would require “the Secretary of State to review whether certain Iranian officials are eligible for entry into the United States.” If passed and signed into law, the bill would affect members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, employees in the supreme leader’s office, members of law enforcement, and other officials, as well as their immediate family members. Wilson’s office stated that “the bill stands with the oppressed Iranian people.”

Senate Passes $1.7 Trillion Appropriations Bill Including MENA Foreign Assistance. On December 22, the Senate voted 68-29 to pass a $1.7 trillion appropriations bill. The bill includes $3.3 billion in security funding for Israel, as well as foreign military financing (FMF) for Egypt and Jordan. Importantly, the legislation conditions FMF to Egypt, with $225 million of the country’s $1.3 billion FMF package partially conditioned on the certification of human rights conditions—although this can be overridden with a waiver for security and counterterrorism efforts. Finally, $95 million of the funding is fully conditioned on Egypt “making clear and consistent progress in releasing political prisoners, providing detainees with due process of law, and preventing the intimidation and harassment of American citizens.”

Senator Menendez Criticizes Republicans for Obstructing Iran Resolution. On December 22, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) submitted a formal statement for the Senate record criticizing Senate Republicans who blocked S.Con.Res. 47, a concurrent resolution expressing US support for Iranian protesters. Menendez spoke about Iran’s violent suppression of protesters and its role supplying drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine, calling on Congress to do more to support Iranians in the upcoming term.

President Biden Signs 2023 NDAA Into Law. On December 23, President Biden signed into law H.R. 7776, the James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023. However, after signing the bill, President Biden expressed his concern that a provision of the legislation bars funding for his administration to transfer Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States or to foreign countries.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Senator Menendez Slams Turkey in Senate Floor Speech. On December 19, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) condemned Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy on the Senate floor. In a nine-minute-long speech, Menendez discussed threats made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan against Greece only days before, as well as his practice of arresting journalists, the recent sentencing of Istanbul’s mayor for insulting public officials, Erdoğan’s meetings with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Turkey’s recent drone strikes on the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces in northeastern Syria. Menendez concluded his speech by vowing to block any US-sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, a provision that Congress dropped from the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act two weeks ago.

Ukrainian President Criticizes Iranian Drone Proliferation in Speech to Congress. On December 21, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy criticized Iran’s provision of drones to Russia for use in its war in Ukraine during a speech he made to Congress, stating, “When Russia cannot reach our cities by its artillery it tries to destroy them with missile attacks. More than that, Russia found an ally in this genocidal policy: Iran.”

Democratic Lawmakers Write to FIFA President over Armband Decision in Qatar. On December 16, 30 Democratic lawmakers wrote to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, expressing concern about the organization’s decision to penalize players at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar for wearing “OneLove” armbands expressing support for the LGBTQ+ community. In the letter, the lawmakers requested that Infantino respond to specific questions about how the federation considers World Cup host countries’ stances toward the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups.

Virginia House Race Primary Draws Israel Lobby Funding. On December 20, residents of Virginia’s 4th congressional district voted in a primary election to determine which Democratic candidate will enter the race to replace recently deceased Representative Donald McEachin (D-Virginia). Virginia State Senator Jennifer McClellan has garnered the support of pro-Israel groups Democratic Majority for Israel PAC and American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) PAC. In an interview, McClellan’s communications advisor said that, if elected, she would “support foreign aid bills that provide full funding without political preconditions to ensure Israel’s ability to defend itself.”

3) Nominations

Senate Confirms New Ambassador to Tunisia. On December 22, the Senate voted to confirm Joey Hood as the next US Ambassador to Tunisia. Hood is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, and recently served as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

President Biden Says Iran Nuclear Deal is “Dead.” On December 20, a video was released showing President Biden on November 4 stating that the nuclear deal with Iran is “dead.” In the leaked video, Biden says that the deal is dead, but that his administration is not going to announce it. Following the leak, White House National Security Spokesperson John Kirby stated, “There is no progress happening with respect to the Iran deal now. We don’t anticipate any progress anytime in the near future.”

National Security Advisor Sullivan Speaks with Qatari Foreign Minister. On December 22, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani. Sullivan expressed gratitude for Qatar’s role in securing the release of two American citizens from Afghanistan, and both officials expressed concern about the Taliban’s recent ban on women attending university.

National Security Advisor Sullivan Convenes US-Israel Strategic Consultative Group Meeting. On December 22, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Israeli National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata convened a virtual meeting of the US-Israel Strategic Consultative Group. The group discussed US-Israel military exercises and the Iranian military’s relationship with Russia, including Iran’s provision of drones to the latter.

2) Department of State

Secretary Blinken Congratulates Netanyahu on Incoming Israeli Government. On December 22, Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his successful formation of a new government. During a press briefing, Secretary Blinken reiterated that the Biden administration will judge Netanyahu’s far-right ministers on policy rather than personality, vowing to continue to hold “very candid conversations” with Israeli leaders when the United States disagrees with Israeli policy. Blinken’s comments are similar to those made by US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides during a meeting last week, in which he said that the Biden administration will continue to push for the reopening of the US Consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem despite Israeli pushback.

Deputy UN Ambassador Wood Clashes with Iranian Counterpart at UNSC Meeting. On December 19, US Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Robert Wood clashed with his Iranian and Russian counterparts during a UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal. Wood warned that Iran is enriching uranium at a rate at least 18 times higher than that allowed under the JCPOA, and starkly disagreed with Iran’s ambassador over who is to blame for the stalled talks on renewing the deal. Wood also called for a UN investigation into Iran’s provision of drones to Russia for use in its war on Ukraine. Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called the allegations “patently concocted and false.” The next day, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borell met with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Jordan, and said that the two leaders had agreed to continue negotiating on a nuclear deal.

Secretary Blinken Speaks with Turkish Foreign Minister. On December 22, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. During the call, Secretary Blinken thanked his counterpart for Turkey’s role in ensuring the continuation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative and expressed concern about recent Turkish military action in Syria.

US Considering Restricting Visas to Israelis who Commit Violence and Crimes Against Palestinians. The US Embassy in Jerusalem is reportedly considering restricting visas for Israelis who are suspected of committing violence and crimes against Palestinians.

State Department Defends Israel Over Deportation of Palestinian Lawyer. On December 21, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price commented on Israel’s decision to revoke the residency status of and to deport Palestinian Jerusalemite lawyer Salah Hammouri to France, citing US support for Israel’s alleged security concerns about Hammouri. However, Price expressed the administration’s concern about the broader implications of the action, stating, “We of course have serious concerns about any broader practice of revocation of residency and deportation from East Jerusalem,” while also adding that this “does not appear to be what is happening here.” France and Ireland have condemned Israel’s deportation of Hammouri, with Ireland saying that it was carried out in violation of international law.

Deputy UN Ambassador Wood Calls on Assad to Participate in Constitutional Committee Meetings. On December 21, US Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Robert Wood called on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to participate “constructively” in Syrian Constitutional Committee meetings. Wood said that the United States supports a “Syrian-led, Syrian owned process,” calling on Assad to work with UN Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen.

Biden Administration Planning Arab Israeli Summit for Early 2023. On December 20, a senior US official said that the Biden administration is planning a meeting in early 2023 between Israel and the Arab countries with which it has formalized relations. The official also stated that, “Depending on some of the things that Israel does, that may make it harder or easier for these [Arab] countries to actually engage.” However, the official remained confident that incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants the normalization process to move forward.

State Department Stands with Iranian People During Winter Solstice Holiday. On December 21, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price recognized Shab-e Yalda, an Iranian holiday celebrating the winter solstice. In his statement, Price also decried the Iranian regime’s arrest and killing of protesters following the breakout of protests in September, saying that the United States will continue to confront the regime’s human rights abuses and hold perpetrators accountable.

State Department Recognizes Qatar’s National Day. On December 18, Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his warm wishes to Qatar in celebration of its National Day. In his statement, Blinken celebrated five decades of US-Qatar relations, highlighting the country’s designation as a major non-NATO ally, a recent US-Qatar strategic dialogue meeting, and Qatar’s having hosted the US men’s national soccer team during the 2022 World Cup.

3) Department of Defense

US CENTCOM Detains Six Islamic State Operatives in Eastern Syria. On December 20, US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced that it had conducted three helicopter raids in eastern Syria, during which it detained six operatives from the so-called Islamic State (IS). One of those captured was senior IS member al-Zubaydi, who CENTCOM stated is responsible for multiple IS attacks in Syria. According to the statement, initial US military assessments indicate that no civilians were harmed during the raids.

CENTCOM General Kurilla Warns That Turkish Invasion into Syria Will Help Islamic State. On December 22, US Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander General Michael “Erik” Kurilla warned that a Turkish military ground operation against the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would destabilize the region due to its potential effect on the security situation in prisons holding members of the so-called Islamic State (IS). General Kurilla warned that the SDF controls 28 IS prison camps across northern Syria, and that SDF forces may be pulled away from the prisons to defend against a Turkish invasion, which could lead to prisoner escapes. Kurilla’s concerns are not unfounded; in January 2022, 4,000 IS detainees broke out of a Syrian prison.

US Sends Three Military Helicopters to Lebanon. Last week, the US military sent three Huey II helicopters worth $24 million to Lebanon. During a ceremony with Lebanese Air Force Commander Ziad Haikal, US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea said that the helicopters “represent the enduring partnership between Lebanon and the United States.”

US Navy to Name Warship After Fallujah, Iraq. On December 12, the US Navy announced that it plans to name a still-in-development amphibious assault warship the USS Fallujah. Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said that the name is an effort to “memorialize the Marines, soldiers, and coalition partners that fought valiantly and those that sacrificed their lives during both battles of Fallujah.” In 2004, following the US invasion of Iraq, Fallujah was the site of two major US campaigns that resulted in several hundreds of civilian casualties and accusations regarding the US military’s use of indiscriminate violence, a fact that has led to criticism of the decision to name a new assault ship after the city.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Department Sanctions Iranian Officials over Violence Against Protesters. On December 21, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced the implementation of sanctions on Iranian Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, an Iranian company that manufactures equipment for Iranian law enforcement, and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officials involved in the violent suppression of protests. Montazeri oversees the Iranian courts that have been hastily trying protesters, including Mohsen Shekari, the first protester that Iran publicly executed.