Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress 

1) Personnel and Correspondence 

Senator Paul Objects to Arms Sales to Egypt. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) wrote an article for Responsible Statecraft in which he expressed his strong opposition to arms sales to Egypt. Objecting to what he called “mere slaps on the wrist” (referring to the 10 percent of aid suspended because of human rights violations), Paul promised to force a vote in the Senate to “cancel the latest military sale to Egypt’s criminal masters.”

Rep. Mike Rogers Criticizes Decision to Release Qahtani. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Alabama), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, issued a statement in which he criticized the Biden Administration’s release of Mohammed al-Qahtani from detention in Guantanamo. Qahtani was going to be one of the hijackers of September 11, 2001. Rogers said that the release is an “appalling capitulation to the far-left.”

Republican Senators Pledge to Oppose Nuclear Deal with Iran. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and 32 other Republicans pledged to thwart any new nuclear deal with Iran if the Biden Administration does not refer it Congress for approval. In a letter to President Joe Biden, they argued that any such agreement must be voted on and passed as a treaty with two-thirds of the Senate.

Menendez, Graham Cosponsor Resolution to Establish a Middle East Nuclear Fuel Bank. Senators Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) cosponsored a resolution in the Senate (S.Res.511) to establish a nuclear fuel bank for the Middle East. The two have been among the most ardent opponents of reaching a nuclear deal that could allow Iran to resume uranium enrichment. This proposal would authorize the United States to help supply any country in the region with fuel if it foregoes its own efforts to enrich uranium.

Senator Murphy Criticizes Saied’s Move to Disband Tunisia’s Supreme Judicial Council. On February 8, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, issued a statement in which he criticized Tunisian President Kais Saied’s dismissal of the Supreme Judicial Council. He said that Saied’s move represents a clear step toward authoritarianism and urged the international community to link financial assistance for Tunisia’s troubled economy and its “democratic course correction.”

McCaul Demands a US Residual Force in Syria. The ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul (R-Texas) commended the operation last week that killed the Islamic State leader Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi. In a statement, he urged the Biden Administration to keep a residual US military force in Syria “to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS and safety of our homeland.”

2) Hearings

Lipstadt: Not All Criticism of Israel is Anti-Semitic. At her confirmation hearing in the Senate on February 8, Deborah Lipstadt—President Biden’s nominee to be special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism—said that not all criticism of Israel should be considered anti-Semitism, and that it is all contextual. She did not fully endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism that practically considers any criticism of Israel to be anti-Semitic. At the same time, she held that the recent Amnesty International report accusing Israel of practicing apartheid is “ahistorical and unhistorical.”

SASC Holds Hearing on Nomination of New CENTCOM Commander. On February 8, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Lieutenant General Michael Kurilla to lead the US Central Command. If confirmed, he would succeed current commander General Frank McKenzie on April 1.

II. Executive Branch

 1)White House

NSA Sullivan Condemns Houthi Attacks against Saudi Arabia. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the United States is committed to working with Saudi allies and international partners to hold the Houthis accountable for attacks on February 10.

Sullivan also hosted his Israeli counterpart Eyal Hulata and they discussed issues of mutual concern. Sullivan stressed the US commitment to the close relationship between the United States and Israel. Wendy Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State, also joined the meeting and emphasized the importance “of Israelis and Palestinians enjoying equal measures of security, freedom, and prosperity,” reaffirming the US commitment to a two-state solution.

Biden Discusses Energy, Security, and Iran with Saudi King. On February 9, President Biden spoke with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and discussed mutual concerns, including the Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia. Biden briefed Salman on the ongoing talks with Iran to revive the nuclear agreement that was annulled by the previous US administration. In addition, the two leaders emphasized their commitment to providing global energy supplies. The president’s call seemed to come in the context of consultations with Gulf states after they complained in 2015 that they were not involved in negotiations that led to the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Biden Discusses Regional Security Issues with Israeli Prime Minister. President Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to emphasize the strong partnership between the two countries. They discussed the nuclear talks with Iran, the Abraham Accords, and the recent US operation against the Islamic State in Syria. Biden reiterated his commitment to Israel’s security and pledged his support for replenishing its Iron Dome missile defense system.

2) State Department

Blinken Threatens Somali Officials Responsible for Manipulating Elections. In a strongly worded statement on February 8, Secretary of State Antony Blinken invoked Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act to threaten Somali officials and their family members, on the federal and state levels, with restrictions on entry to the United States if they were found to be delaying the electoral process in Somalia. He called on them to abide by their commitments “to complete the parliamentary process” by February 25. 

US Concerned about Tunisian President’s Actions. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price expressed the United States’ deep concern about Tunisian President Kais Saied’s step to dissolve the Supreme Judicial Council. Washington views this move as a threat to democracy as the council serves as an independent judicial watchdog. The council dismissed Saied’s illegal action and claimed that it would continue its duties, but the police locked the doors to the building and prevented the staff from entering.

US: Lebanon Must Hold Its Parliamentary Elections on Time. In response to a question by Reuters, US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea said that the United States and the international community are unified in insisting that Lebanon hold its parliamentary elections on time, on May 15. There had been talk and speculation whether some parties—those that are worried about losing seats they currently have in parliament—may lose them in the coming polls.

Biden Administration Is Setting Up New Afghan Processing Hub in Qatar. On February 8, an administration official said that the United States is setting up an expedited processing hub in Qatar to process Afghans wishing to leave for settlement in the United States. The hub’s purpose is to help at-risk Afghans with their legal status and ultimate destination once they arrive in the country.

State Approves Large Arms Deal for Jordan. The State Department approved a $4.21 billion deal to sell F-16 jets to Jordan. Much smaller amounts—of $23.7 million and $65 million—were also approved for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, respectively, for the purchase of communications and logistics equipment.

US Joins Canada and European Countries in Condemning Sudan’s Crackdown. The United States joined the United Kingdom, Norway, Switzerland, and the European Union in condemning a series of arrests of democracy activists and political figures by the military authorities in Sudan. The group called for an end to these practices and the release of those detained.

Hochstein in Beirut for Demarcation Talks. US energy envoy Amos Hochstein arrived in Beirut from Israel February 8 for further discussions about demarcating Lebanese-Israeli maritime borders. In Beirut, he met with political and military leaders and announced that there is a clear opportunity for Lebanon and Israel to reach agreement on the demarcation.

3) Defense Department

US Civilian Death Count Higher than Expected in IS Raid. US military officials said that the raid in Syria that killed Islamic State leader Ibrahim al-Qurashi might have killed more civilians than initially assumed. The officials also said that they were uncertain if Qurashi denotated the bomb that killed him and his family.

CENTCOM Commander Visits the UAE. On February 6, General Frank McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, arrived in the United Arab Emirates to discuss efforts to boost its defense against attacks by Yemen’s Houthis. The Pentagon has already announced that it was dispatching the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole and a squadron of F-22 aircraft to the UAE. McKenzie said that the weapons the Houthis used to attack the UAE were Iranian made and Iran must have known about the decision to use them; if not, it should be held morally responsible for their use.

McKenzie also visited Egypt, where he discussed military cuts the administration made in aid it provided the country. He said that the cuts were in response to Egypt’s failure to address human rights concerns. Still, he considered them to be minor compared to the amount of aid Egypt is receiving overall.

4) United States Commission on International Religious Freedom

USCIRF Calls for the Release of Egyptian Detainee. The US Commission for International Religious Freedom called on Egypt on February 9 to release Reda Abdel Rahman, an adherent to the Islamic tradition that considers the Qur’an the sole legitimate source for religious rulings and rejects “the authenticity and authority” of the Hadith. Abdel Rahman has been detained since August 2020.