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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News from the Hill and Beyond (Dec. 14, 2017 - Jan. 18, 2018)

U.S. Adopts New Iran Sanctions

On Jan. 12, the U.S. administration sanctioned 14 individuals and entities for their support of Iran’s illicit activities—including serious human rights abuses, censorship and ballistic missile activity.

"The United States will not stand by while the Iranian regime continues to engage in human rights abuses and injustice. We are targeting the Iranian regime, including the head of Iran's judiciary, for its appalling mistreatment of its citizens, including those imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and for censoring its own people as they stand up in protest against their government," said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. "We are also targeting Iran's ballistic missile program and destabilizing activities, which it continues to prioritize over the economic well-being of the Iranian people."

House Adopts Resolution Supporting Iranian Human Rights

On Jan. 9, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly adopted a bipartisan resolution (H.Res. 676) supporting the Iranian people’s rights to free expression and condemning the Iranian regime’s crackdown on legitimate protests. The resolution was introduced by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY).

Noting that Iran's citizens have voiced economic grievances and protested the regime’s regional aggression, the resolution expresses solidarity “with the people of Iran that are engaged in legitimate and peaceful protests against an oppressive, corrupt regime.” The resolution also “condemns the Iranian regime’s serious human rights abuses against the Iranian people, significant corruption and destabilizing activities abroad.”

Importantly, the resolution urges the administration to use targeted sanctions to address the Iranian regime’s human rights violations. It also calls for the United States to facilitate technological support to the Iranian people, who are being actively censored and repressed by their leaders.

In the Senate, a bipartisan resolution in solidarity with the Iranian people has been introduced by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD).

U.S. Vetoes Anti-Israel U.N. Security Council Resolution

On Dec. 18, the United States vetoed an anti-Israel United Nations Security Council resolution (UNSCR) objecting to the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Following the vote, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley explained that “for the simple act of deciding where to put our embassy, the United States was forced to defend its sovereignty. The record will reflect that we did so proudly. Today, for acknowledging a basic truth about the capital city of Israel, we are accused of harming peace. The record will reflect that we reject that outrageous claim. For these reasons, and with the best interests of both the Israeli and the Palestinian people firmly in mind, the United States votes ‘no’ on this resolution.”

Russia, Ukraine, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Sweden, Senegal, Ethiopia, Egypt, Bolivia, Uruguay and Kazakhstan all voted in favor of the resolution.

The resolution comes almost one year after the United States abstained, rather than veto, from a vote on anti-Israel UNSCR 2334. The move broke long-standing U.S. policy and defied bipartisan majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives, which had urged the administration to veto any such one-sided, anti-Israel resolutions.

“Given the chance to vote again on Resolution 2334, I can say with complete confidence that the United States would vote ‘no,’” Haley proclaimed during a UNSC Middle East briefing. “We would exercise our veto power. The reasons why are very relevant to the cause of peace in the Middle East.”

House Unanimously Passes Bill to Enhance U.S.-Israel Space Collaboration

On Dec. 20, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the United States and Israel Space Cooperation Act (H.R. 1159) by a vote of 411-0.

Authored by Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Mark Veasey (D-TX), the bipartisan bill aims to enhance cooperation between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Israel Space Agency (ISA).

The legislation specifically directs NASA to continue working with the ISA in identifying and cooperatively pursuing peaceful space exploration and science initiatives in areas of mutual interest.

“This bill allows us to work with one of our key partners to continue breaking the boundaries of space,” said Rep. Kilmer. “In turn, it will keep us on a path that fosters innovation and experimentation, encourage the growth of the U.S. space industry, and create American jobs.”

In 2015, NASA and the ISA signed a civil space agreement during the International Astronautical Congress to enable new cooperation and research in space.

U.S. Withholds UNWRA Aid to Promote Agency Reform

On Jan. 16, the U.S. administration announced that it is withholding a portion of its annual funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA)—the agency tasked with assisting Palestinian refugees.

In a letter to the U.N. agency, the administration declared that it is holding back $65 million in funding in an effort to motivate reform within the agency. State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the United States would withhold the money “for future consideration.”

At the same time the State Department announced it was providing $60 million to UNWRA “to sustain schools and health services to ensure that teachers and also health care providers can be paid their salaries.”

“The United States has been, in the past, the largest single donor to UNWRA. We would like other countries – in fact other countries that criticize the United States for what they believe to be our position vis-a-vis the Palestinians, other countries that have criticized us – to step forward and actually help with UNWRA, to do more,” said Nauert.

Since 1994, the United States has provided approximately $5.2 billion in aid to the Palestinians.

Tags: Near East Report Near-East-Report