Week ahead: Lawmakers to examine Syria, sanctions

A look at the Middle East issues Congress will be addressing next week.

al-monitor Sen. Tim Kaine visits the US 5h Fleet in Manama, Dec. 6, 2013. Photo by Office of Tim Kaine.
Julian Pecquet

Julian Pecquet


Topics covered

women’s rights, budget, us congress, syrian crisis, office of foreign assets control, national security agency, hezbollah, barack obama

Mar 28, 2014

The Senate Foreign Relations panel is marking up a resolution calling for a new policy for Syria on Tuesday after lawmakers tore into State Department officials this week.

The resolution from Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., chairman of the subpanel on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, gives the administration 90 days to present Congress with a new strategy to address the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The mark-up could offer a chance for lawmakers to vent their frustration at President Obama’s reluctance to get more involved as the conflict enters its fourth year.

President Obama’s budget priorities also continue to come under the microscope as lawmakers grill his top sanctions official and his ambassador to the UN.

The Senate Appropriations panel on financial services is scheduled to hear Wednesday from David Cohen, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget requests $105.9 million in direct appropriations — up $3.9 million from this year — for Cohen’s department, which includes the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and is responsible for intelligence, enforcement and economic sanctions.

Cohen’s testimony comes as House staffers continue to work on new Hezbollah sanctions, as Al-Monitor first reported Thursday. Legislative language could appear as soon as next week, if staffers can iron out the details.

Also on Wednesday, the ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, will testify before the House Appropriations panel on State and Foreign Operations about the budget request for the UN and international organizations. The 2015 budget request adds up to $4 billion — a $1 billion increase over fiscal year 2014.

Much of the increase stems from a 40% hike in US contributions to UN peacekeeping efforts (from $1.8 billion to $2.5 billion), which has drawn conservatives’ ire because it represents a US commitment to the UN budget beyond the 25% ceiling signed into law in 1994. Obama’s call for a $150 million pot to fund “critical requirements for peacekeeping operations and activities that emerge outside of the regular budget cycle” has also raised eyebrows, as has the administration’s continued push to restore funding to UNESCO despite its recognition of Palestine as a member-state.

And on Friday, the House Armed Services panel on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities hears from NSA Director Keith Alexander and other officials about the president’s request for intelligence activities.

Meanwhile, the House Foreign Affairs has a women’s rights-themed week with special bearing on the Muslim world. The full panel holds a hearing with three women activists and scholars Thursday on “Women’s Education: Promoting Development, Countering Radicalism.” That same day the panel will mark up legislation, named after teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, that would expand the number of scholarships available to Pakistani women under the Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program.

Finally, two House Judiciary and Oversight subpanels have rescheduled their hearing on visas for Libyan nationals that was postponed last week “due to witness availability.” The panels will hold a joint hearing on Thursday regarding the Department of Homeland Security’s apparent decision to allow Libyans into the country for flight and aviation maintenance training and nuclear-related studies and training. Some Republicans argue Gadhafi-era restrictions should stay in place because Libya has heretofore failed to “normalize” its relationship with the United States.

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