Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

House Passes Legislation on Sanctions Pertaining to Iran. On September 12, the House passed H.R.589, the Mahsa Amini Human Rights and Security Accountability (MAHSA) Act, by a vote of 410 to 3. The bill, if signed into law, would require the president to impose sanctions on certain foreign individuals or entities affiliated with Iran, particularly Iran’s senior leadership. On the same day, the House also passed H.Res.492, which condemns Iran’s violation of international human rights treaties, including violations against the Baha’i religious minority. And on September 12, H.R.3152, the Fight CRIME Act, passed the House by a vote of 403 to 8. The bill would mandate sanctions on any foreign person or entity conducting business with Iran’s missile and drone program, even if the UN embargo on Iran ends this October.

Sen. Kennedy Introduces Bill to Increase Transparency of Funding from Sovereign Wealth Funds. On September 14, Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) introduced S.2805, the “Protecting Our Courts from Foreign Manipulation Act of 2023.” The bill, if passed and signed into law, would increase transparency and oversight of third-party funding by foreign persons and prohibit third-party funding by foreign states and sovereign wealth funds. Releasing a statement on the matter, Senator Kennedy said that the bill “would put necessary safeguards in place to ensure that foreign nations, private equity funds and sovereign wealth funds linked to hostile governments are not tipping the scale in federal courtrooms.”

2) Personnel and Correspondence

HFAC Chairman McCaul Calls for Iran to be Held to NPT Obligations. On September 11, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) addressed comments from the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran is not complying with IAEA-set standards required under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Representative McCaul said, “The IAEA Director General’s statement today further emphasizes the need for drastic action, including at the IAEA, to ensure Iran is held to its treaty obligations.” Representative McCaul has previously called for the Biden administration to find Iran non-compliant under the NPT and to refer Iran’s nuclear violations to the United Nations Security Council.

HFAC Chairman McCaul and SFRC Chairman Menendez Criticize Biden’s Handling of Iran Prisoner Deal. On September 11, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) criticized the Biden administration’s deal to release frozen Iranian funds as part of an agreement to free five detained American citizens. Representative McCaul called Iran the “world’s top state sponsor of terrorism” and said that the deal encourages American adversaries to take hostages in the future. Senator Menendez echoed concerns that the deal incentivizes hostile nations to take Americans hostage. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mitt Romney (R-UT), and their Republican colleagues bashed the deal on similar grounds.

Senator Murphy Meets with Bahrain Foreign Minister. On September 13, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) released a statement following his meeting with Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani. The two spoke about the recently signed Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement, regional de-escalation efforts, and a potential normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia. During the meeting, Senator Murphy also raised concerns about the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience in Bahrain, which has drawn international attention in recent weeks.

SFRC Chairman Menendez Calls for De-escalation of Tensions in Northeast Syria. On September 13, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) called on all parties in Deir Ez-Zour and Northeast Syria to de-escalate recent tensions. In a statement, Senator Menendez argued that renewed fighting in Northeast Syria “will only serve the interests of ISIS, the Assad regime, and Iran, all of whom are intent on punishing and exploiting those who live in this part of Syria.” Senator Menendez also urged the Syrian Democratic Forces to stop its arrest campaigns against the region’s Arab population and to follow through on its recently announced prisoner releases.

Senate PSI Chairman Blumenthal and Ranking Member Johnson Write Letter to Attorney General Garland and FBI Director Wray on Saudi Role in 9/11. On September 11, Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Chairman Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ranking Member Ron Johnson (R-WI) wrote a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland to request complete records of Saudi Arabia’s role in the September 11 attacks.

3) Hearings and Briefings

Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Holds Hearing on PGA Tour-LIV Deal. On September 13, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held a hearing on the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund’s investments in the United States. Committee Chair Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) opened the hearing with remarks about the importance of clarifying how foreign investment can become “a vehicle for malign foreign influence,” adding that Saudi Arabia’s “use of sovereign wealth fund resources to attempt to gain influence in the United States should trouble us all.” Witness testimonies featured insights into Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, how it uses investments to secure foreign influence, and the importance of transparency and accountability.

House Committee on Oversight and Accountability and Committee on Foreign Affairs Hold Separate Hearings on Iran. On September 13, the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability held a subcommittee meeting on the Biden administration’s policies toward Iran. Members and subject matter experts discussed the legality of negotiations with Iran, US sanctions, and other related issues. The following day, September 14, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on threats posed by Iran. Chair Joe Wilson (R-SC) began the hearing by criticizing the Biden administration’s relations with Iran and called for “multipronged policies targeting Iranian terrorism, missile and done proliferation and maximizing support for the efforts of the Iranian people seeking political change and survival.” Representative Dean Phillips (D-MN) followed Wilson and outlined his concern with Iran as the “world’s leading state sponsor of terror,” its relationship with Vladmir Putin, its nuclear program, and its suppression of political expression. Representative Phillips asserted that diplomacy alone will not achieve US objectives in Iran, arguing that the United States “must pair diplomatic engagement with very tough sanctions, enforcement, international accountability and very robust military deterrence.” Additional members on the committee followed with questions about recently released Iranian funds and accountability mechanisms for Iran.


II. Executive Branch

1) White House

President Biden Offers Condolences to Flood-Affected Libyans. On September 12, President Joe Biden expressed his condolences to the families impacted by recent flooding in Libya. President Biden and the State Department both issued statements that the United States is planning on sending emergency funds to relief organizations in Libya, and on coordinating with international partners to provide additional support as needed.

National Security Advisor Sullivan and Defense Secretary Austin Meet with Bahraini Prime Minister Al Khalifa. On September 13, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Bahraini Prime Minister and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa to discuss “a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues.” The two officials also welcomed the signing of the Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement (C-SIPA), a framework intended to enhance US-Bahraini cooperation in defense, intelligence, trade, and investment. On September 14, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III similarly congratulated Al Khalifa on signing C-SIPA and recognized Bahrain’s role in regional integration and maritime security.

President Biden Releases Statement in Memory of Mahsa Amini. On September 15, President Joe Biden released a statement to commemorate the September 16, 2022, death of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian woman whose killing led to a series of protests throughout Iran one year ago. President Biden celebrated Amini’s legacy, writing that she inspired a movement that has “impacted Iran and influenced people across the globe who are tirelessly advocating for gender equality and respect for their human rights.” President Biden concluded his statement by reaffirming the United States’ commitment to supporting the people of Iran and investigating human rights abuses in the country.

National Security Advisor Sullivan Welcomes Arrival of Houthi Delegation to Saudi Arabia. On September 15, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan expressed support for the arrival of a Houthi delegation to Saudi Arabia as part of the first official visit by Houthi representatives to Riyadh since the beginning of the war in Yemen.

2) State Department

US Redirects Military Aid from Egypt to Lebanon, Taiwan. Last week, the United States redirected $85 million in military funds that were initially marked for Egypt due to the country’s human rights violations, allocating $30 million to Lebanon and $55 million to Taiwan. Following news of the diverted funds, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) applauded the Biden administration’s decision and urged the administration to “finish the job and withhold the full $320 million as required by the FY22 Appropriations Act until Egypt’s human rights democracy record improves.” Murphy had previously led a letter cosigned by 10 other senators calling for a full withholding of this year’s funds to Egypt.

Israel Includes Gaza in US Visa Waiver Pilot Program. On September 11, Israel included the Gaza Strip in the US visa waiver pilot program, a step toward its compliance with the rules and regulations of the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) ahead of the September 30 deadline to determine Israel’s eligibility to join. The latest move enables Palestinian Americans from Gaza who are not deemed security threats to enter Israel on B2 tourist visas, which would enable them to fly out of Israeli airports. Notwithstanding Gaza’s formal inclusion in the pilot program, Arab American advocacy groups have continued to raise concerns about Israel’s potential ascension to the VWP, citing unease about the complicated nature of the travel process and lasting obstacles facing Palestinian Americans traveling to and through Israel.

State Department Clarifies Terms of Iran-US Prisoner Deal. On September 12, State Department Spokesperson Mathew Miller addressed questions regarding a deal to free five detained American citizens as part of an agreement to release frozen Iranian funds. Miller rejected claims that the United States is “giving” money to or “paying” Iran, instead emphasizing that the freed funds belonging to Iran are strictly for humanitarian purposes and that US sanctions on Iran have always contained such exceptions. Miller added that the Treasury Department will closely oversee the spending of the newly released funds to ensure that they are used appropriately. Further clarifying US policy towards Iran, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre added on September 13 that the United States has not “lifted a single one of our sanctions on Iran. Iran will be getting no sanctions relief. We will continue to counter the Iran regime’s human rights abuses.”

US and Bahrain Sign Security and Prosperity Agreement. On September 13, the United States and Bahrain signed the Comprehensive Integration and Prosperity Agreement. The agreement is designed to enhance cooperation between the nations across sectors, including defense, technology, trade, and investment. According to the State Department, the agreement is a “cornerstone for cooperation among a broader group of countries that share mutual interests and a common vision with respect to deterrence, diplomacy, and escalation.”

State Department Calls for End to Civilian Casualties in Sudan. On September 13, the State Department expressed concern over the recent increase of indiscriminate air and artillery strikes in Sudan, which have resulted in high numbers of civilian deaths. In a statement, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller called on the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces to “comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law.” Spokesperson Miller’s comments come after a September 12 press briefing with Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who called on both sides to end the “unconscionable war” in Sudan and urged US sanctions to hold perpetrators of atrocities accountable.

State Department Spokesperson Says Recognizing Palestinian State Would Be Unproductive at This Time. During a September 13 press briefing, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller stated that the United States does not believe recognizing the state of Palestine “would be a productive step at this time.” Miller reiterated US policy toward Israel-Palestine, stating that United States remains committed to facilitating a two-state solution.

State Department Creates New System to Track Civilian Deaths Caused by US-Made Weapons. On August 23, the State Department sent a cable to all foreign embassies and consulates announcing the new Civilian Harm Incident Response Guidance (CHIRG) system to monitor abuses involving foreign forces and US-origin arms, according to reports by the Washington Post. The CHIRG system, which had not been previously reported, goes beyond the existing Golden Sentry End-Use Monitoring program, which Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Mike Lee (R-UT) criticized in May for lacking measures to address the “operational use” of US-origin weapons and equipment.

State Department Denies Transferring Weapons and Ammunition to Palestinian Authority Security Forces. Last week, reports emerged claiming that the United States had provided armored vehicles, weapons, and ammunition to the Palestinian Authority (PA) to curb escalating violence in the West Bank. However, the State Department denied such reports, stating that, “US security assistance to the Palestinian Authority does not include provision of weapons or ammunition to the PA security forces.” Even so, uncertainty remains, as the weapons and gear sent to the PA could have been classified as “defensive equipment,” thereby enabling their provision.

State Department Marks Third Anniversary of the Abraham Accords. On September 14, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller marked the third anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords. Miller also mentioned subsequent partnerships, including the Negev Forum (an annual series of meetings intended to increase bilateral cooperation between the parties of the Abraham Accords) and the I2U2 partnership between India, Israel, the United States, and the UAE, which is intended to deepen technological collaboration and strengthen transnational ties.

3) Department of Defense

US and Saudi Forces Complete Joint Military Drill. Last week, American and Saudi forces wrapped up the second iteration of the Red Sands 23.2 joint military exercise in Riyadh. The exercise was designed to test technologies to counter unmanned aircraft systems, with the first round having taken place in March of this year.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Sanctions Hezbollah Operatives in South America and Lebanon. On September 12, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions against Hezbollah operatives and financial facilitators in South America and Lebanon. Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said the action “underscores the US government’s commitment to pursuing Hezbollah operatives and financiers no matter their location.”

Treasury Officials Discuss Bank Reforms in Iraq. Last week, senior Treasury officials traveled to Baghdad to discuss “the opportunities and challenges ahead for further improving the Iraqi financial sector.” Officials “agreed to continue working together and take positive steps towards meaningful and lasting reforms that will raise Iraq to international standards and prevent fraud, sanctions evasion, terrorist financing, and other illicit activities.”

Treasury Sanctions Russian Entities, Affecting Weapons Deals in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. On September 14, the Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions on Russian entities to target Russia’s military supply chain. The sanctions include five Turkey-based companies that are accused of providing Russia with dual-use goods. The United States has ramped up its effort to deprive Russia of technology that can support its war effort in Ukraine, and these most recent sanctions build on recent talks with the UAE and other Gulf states to curb technology transfers to sanctioned countries. The September 14 sanctions have also led to US weapons manufacture RTX (formerly Raytheon Technologies) to call off a multibillion-dollar deal with a Saudi weapons firm over concerns about its ties to sanctioned Russian entities.

Treasury Announces Sanctions on Iranian Officials and Companies Connected to Political Repression. On September 15, the Department of the Treasury announced sanctions against 29 individuals and entities connected to the Iranian government and its systematic suppression of political dissent following the death of Mahsa Amini one year ago. The State Department announced concurrent visa restrictions on 13 Iranian officials and other individuals for their involvement in “the detention or killing of peaceful protestors or the inhibition of their rights to freedom of expression or assembly.” Friday’s sanctions mark the 13th round of designations in connection with the protests that took place throughout Iran last September.

5) United States Agency for International Development

USAID Expresses Support for Earthquake-Affected Moroccans and Flood-Affected Libyans. On September 13, USAID released a statement offering support to earthquake-affected Moroccan communities and detailing the US response in the country to date. According to the statement, USAID will make available up to $1 million in initial humanitarian assistance. On September 14, USAID announced that it will also provide $1 million in aid to Libya, and that a Disaster Assistance Response Team has been activated to lead the US humanitarian response in the region.