Netanyahu to meet Pompeo this week in Portugal
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet this week with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Portugal, officials said Tuesday.
Pompeo will head to Lisbon on Wednesday and hold talks with Netanyahu, a day before flying to Morocco.
US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus late Tuesday confirmed the meeting in a statement without further details.
A political source in Jerusalem earlier told AFP that Netanyahu would fly to Lisbon to see Pompeo, while Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa’s office also said that he would meet separately with the two men on Thursday.
The US State Department earlier said that Pompeo would meet in Rabat with King Mohammed VI, who has cooperated closely with the United States.
The visit comes as the White House has reportedly urged several Arab states in the Middle East, including Morocco, to sign non-belligerence agreements with Israel as a step toward normalizing relations with the Jewish state, according to a Tuesday report by Axios.
“Morocco plays a great role across the region as an important partner in promoting tolerance [and] has these quiet ties and relationship with Israel as well,” a US State Department official said last week.
Morocco has unofficially welcomed Israeli investors and tourists. Some 3,000 Jews live in Morocco, a fraction of the number from before the 1948 creation of Israel but still the largest community in the Arab world.
Netanyahu and Pompeo are also likely to discuss their shared hard line on Iran, which has tried the patience even of European supporters of a 2015 nuclear accord through steps taken to protest US economic sanctions.
In a new pro-Israel shift, Pompeo said last month that the US no longer considers Israel’s West Bank settlements to be illegal.
US President Donald Trump spoke Sunday with Netanyahu, with the two leaders focusing talks on “the threat from Iran,” the White House said.
“The leaders discussed the threat from Iran, as well as other critical bilateral and regional issues,” a brief statement said late Sunday. There was no immediate readout on the call from Israel.
The two last spoke on November 19, when Netanyahu thanked the president for Washington’s decision to repudiate a State Department legal opinion that said West Bank settlements were illegal.
Though Netanyahu and Trump were once close allies who touted their friendship to their respective bases, ties between the two have been seen as cooling in recent months as the Israeli premier has struggled to cling to power. Netanyahu has also reportedly become uneasy with what he perceives as Trump’s unwillingness to stand up to Iranian aggression.
Netanyahu had reportedly planned to fly to London on Tuesday to meet Pompeo on the sidelines of a NATO summit, but UK officials nixed the trip due to logistical obstacles.