US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Israel on Monday to start a five-day Middle East tour focused on Israel’s normalising of ties with the United Arab Emirates and pushing other Arab states to follow suit.
Pompeo, wearing a face mask in the colours of the US flag, was due to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in coming days also visit Sudan, Bahrain and the UAE, the State Department said.
Washington and its close ally Israel hope the Jewish state will soon be able to normalise ties with other regional countries, including several that share their deep animosity with Iran.
In Jerusalem, Pompeo and Netanyahu will discuss “regional security issues related to Iran’s malicious influence” and “establishing and deepening Israel’s relationships in the region”, the State Department said.
Netanyahu said Sunday he and Pompeo would talk about “expanding the circle of peace in our region … We’re working on peace with more countries, and I think there will be more countries – and in the not-so-distant future”.
Pompeo will be followed to many of these destinations by Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, according to reports citing diplomats. Officials said stops in Oman and Qatar are also possible.
The US-sponsored deal between Israel and the UAE announced on August 13 was denounced by the Palestinians as a “betrayal” of their cause. It was only the third such accord Israel has struck with an Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan.
The two new partners have since said they want to promote trade, especially the sale of Emirati oil to Israel and Israeli technology to the UAE, as well as boosting tourism by establishing direct air links.
Key to that plan would be persuading Saudi Arabia to open its airspace to Israeli commercial airlines.
The surprise announcement of the Israel-Emirati pact sparked huge speculation on who might be next, with frequent mentions of Bahrain and Sudan.
Sudan’s foreign ministry spokesman was fired last week after he made allegedly unauthorised comments indicating contact had been made with Israel regarding normalising ties.
But the State Department said Pompeo would meet Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok during his tour to “express support for deepening the Sudan-Israel relationship”.
Sudan is eager to be removed from the US list of state sponsors of “terrorism” and normalising ties with Israel would be a step toward that goal.
However, removal from the terrorism list is also dependent on completion of a compensation agreement for victims of the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. A tentative deal struck several months ago is still awaiting finalisation.