Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

1) Personnel and Correspondence

Republican Senators Urge Biden to Support Israel. On April 7, Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and a group of Senate Republicans wrote to President Joe Biden urging him to supply Israel with the military means to defend itself against Iran. The letter highlighted the Biden Administration’s efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, which will supposedly threaten Israel’s security. The other senators were Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Bill Hagerty (R-Tennessee), Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Rick Scott (R-Florida), John Boozman (R-Arkansas), Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee).

Representatives Write to Biden Concerning Lebanese Elections. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-New York), Chairman of the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and a bipartisan group of House members wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken to work with Lebanese officials to ensure that the upcoming parliamentary elections on May 15 are conducted accurately and corruption-free. They urged the administration to monitor the process and hold accountable any party that works to delay the polls.

Bipartisan Statement on IMF Negotiations with Lebanon. A bipartisan, bicameral statement—issued by Senators Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Chairman and Ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-New York) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee—welcomed an initial agreement between the Lebanese government and the International Monetary Fund to help Lebanon. The group of legislators equated the importance of the agreement with the necessity to implement reforms in Lebanon to address the country’s serious economic problems.

2) Legislation

Rep. Huizenga Proposes Financing Restrictions on Iran. On April 5, Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Michigan) introduced legislation (H.R.7402) to the House’s Financial Services Committee to prevent the US Treasury Department, the International Monetary Fund, and the Import-Export Bank from authorizing any financial assistance to Iran. The bill still has no cosponsors.

Senators Grassley and Graham Propose Banning and Deporting Human Rights Violators. On April 6, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) with cosponsor Senator Lindsey Graham (R- South Carolina) proposed legislation (S.4021) to amend the Immigration and nationality Act to broaden the conditions to disallow the entry and permit the deportation of human rights violators. The legislation, dubbed the Human Rights Violator Act of 2022, targets “war criminals and those who engage in practices like female mutilation.”

Senator Scott Introduces Bill to Punish Amnesty International and Its Employees. On April 5, Senator Rick Scott (R-Florida) introduced S.3999 to prohibit the disbursement of any US government money to Amnesty International and its employees. The bill is specifically in response to the organization’s recent report accusing Israel of the crime of apartheid. It has one cosponsor, Senator Mike Braun (R-Indiana), and was introduced to the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

President Biden Marks the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan. On April 1, President Biden issued a statement marking the beginning of Ramadan. He congratulated Muslims in the United States and around the world and pledged to stand with people who are “suffering and vulnerable” during these difficult times.

2) State Department

Biden Administration Will Not Lift IRGC from FTO List. On April 8, David Ignatius reported in his column that the Biden Administration has decided not to lift Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps off of its list of foreign terrorist organizations. Lifting said designation has been a bone of contention at the Iran nuclear negotiations in Vienna. A sizeable number of representatives and senators have lobbied the administration against lifting the designation which is likely a major explanation for the administration’s decision.

US Expresses Sympathy with Israeli Victims of Attack. Secretary Blinken issued a statement on April 7 to express sympathy with a deadly attack in Tel Aviv that killed two and injured others. The statement also clearly marked the incident as a terrorist attack and pledged US support against what it called “senseless terrorism and violence.”

US Welcomes Yemeni Government Reform. In a statement on April 7, Secretary Blinken noted the Biden Administration’s approval of and support for the formation of a new Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council. The statement reiterated the US government’s belief that Yemenis deserve a responsive government and that only a political solution to the country’s conflict is possible and durable.

Separately, the State Department welcomed a Saudi-Emirati $2 billion pledge to help Yemen’s economy and a $1 billion Saudi fund “for development projects and fuel support.” The department also urged other international donors to provide humanitarian assistance to Yemen that is barely 40 percent funded.

US-Turkey Strategic Mechanism Launched. On April 4, the United States and Turkey launched the US-Turkey Strategic Mechanism to coordinate topics of mutual interest in economics, defense, and counterterrorism. Tensions in bilateral relations over the past few years prompted the initiative on which Presidents Joe Biden and Recep Tayyib Erdoğan agreed in a meeting in 2021. Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland represented the United States and Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal represented Turkey in the meeting in Ankara.

Israel Rejects US Plan for Israeli-Palestinian Meeting. On April 7, Israel’s Haaretz reported that Israel rejected an American proposed plan for a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian national security advisors that would have been hosted by US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. The Jordanian and Egyptian counterparts were also to join the meeting. Since his taking office, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has refused to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

3) Defense Department

Kurilla Assumes CENTCOM Command. On April 1, General Michael “Erik” Kurilla assumed leadership of US Central Command. He was CENTCOM’s chief of staff from August 2018 to September 2019 and takes over from retiring General Frank McKenzie. The turnover ceremony was officiated by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III and was attended by US and international high-ranking officers.

Stroul: Iran and IS Leading Sources of Threat. On April 5, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Dana Stroul said that Iran is a “leading source of instability in the Middle East,” while the Islamic State is still a threat for the region. Stroul added at a Wilson Center event in Washington that the United States is not pivoting from the region but thinks that the latter is a key arena for competing with China.

Milley Does Not Support Delisting the IRGC. In a testimony in front of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said that he does not support taking Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps off the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. His statement comes as proposals of delist the Guards surface in tandem with nuclear negotiations with Iran. No decision has yet been made about the matter by the Biden Administration.