Pompeo lands in Israel for meetings ahead of regional normalization push

Pompeo lands in Israel for meetings ahead of regional normalization push

US secretary of state to travel next to Sudan, Bahrain and UAE, as Trump administration seeks to capitalize on deal between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Israel on Monday, kicking off a five-day visit to the Middle East focused on Israel’s normalizing of ties with the United Arab Emirates and pushing other Arab states to follow suit.

The diplomatic chief wore a mask in the colors of the US flag as he descended from a plane at Ben Gurion Airport.

Pompeo was set to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi on Monday to discuss the normalization push and efforts to reinstate international sanctions against Iran.

Pompeo is then to visit Sudan, Bahrain and the UAE as the Trump administration seeks to capitalize on momentum from the historic agreement between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi to establish diplomatic relations. Officials said stops in Oman and Qatar are also possible.

Netanyahu said late Sunday that he was confident other countries would soon follow the UAE’s lead and make peace with Israel. His long-term “peace for peace… peace from strength” doctrine, he said, was starting to “bear fruit.”

Pompeo will meet with Netanyahu “to discuss regional security issues related to Iran’s malicious influence, establishing and deepening Israel’s relationships in the region, as well as cooperation in protecting the US and Israeli economies from malign investors,” the State Department said Sunday.

“Malign investors” is a reference to China, which is seeking to gain a commercial foothold in Israel.

“In Sudan, the secretary will meet with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Sovereign Council Chair General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to discuss continued US support for the civilian-led transitional government, and express support for deepening the Sudan-Israel relationship,” a State Department statement said.

Pompeo’s visit to Khartoum will come amid increasing signs that Sudan and Israel are moving to improve ties.

Over the weekend, an Arabic report said that Mossad chief Yossi Cohen met recently with Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of Sudan’s ruling military council, in a meeting organized and hosted by the UAE. Sources with knowledge of the Cohen-Dagalo meeting told the Qatari news outlet Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that Sudan’s military council is interested in improving ties with Israel.

Also last week, Sudan’s foreign ministry spokesman, Haidar Badawi Sadiq, told Sky News Arabia that Khartoum “aspires towards a peace agreement with Israel… a relationship of equals built upon Khartoum’s interests.”

Those remarks last Tuesday were quickly welcomed by Jerusalem. But hours later Sudan’s acting foreign minister denied knowledge of peace talks with Israel, and said Sadiq had not been authorized to comment on the issue. The spokesman was fired for the comments on Wednesday, but said afterward that he did not regret making them.

Israeli officials have long expressed a wish for better relations with Khartoum, citing its importance in the region as well as its geographic location. The nation was the birthplace of the Arab League’s 1967 policy refusing negotiations or normalization with Israel, but in recent years it has seemingly softened its stance, moving out of Iran’s sphere of influence as it has desperately sought the removal of US sanctions as a supporter of Hamas, Hezbollah and other terror groups.

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 still awaits finalization.

Besides Sudan, other countries that could follow the UAE in normalizing ties with Israel are Bahrain, Oman, and Morocco. However, Morocco’s leader said Sunday that his country “refuses” to establish diplomatic ties with Israel.

From Israel, Pompeo will fly to Sudan and from there to Bahrain for a meeting with Crown Prince of Bahrain Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. He will then travel to Abu Dhabi for talks with Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan on the Israel-UAE agreement and other regional issues, according to the State Department.

Pompeo will be followed to many of the same destinations later in the week by US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, diplomats said.

Kushner and his team are expected to visit Israel, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Morocco on their trip, which is scheduled to begin at the end of the week, according to the diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, because the itinerary has not yet been finalized or publicly announced.

Neither Pompeo’s nor Kushner’s trips are expected to result in announcements of immediate breakthroughs, but both are aimed at building on the success of the Israel-UAE agreement by finalizing at least one, and potentially more, normalization deals between Arab countries and Israel in the near future.

In an interview aired Sunday, Israel’s ambassador to the United States told the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news network that he expected another Arab country to sign a normalization deal with Israel in the coming weeks.

“There are several countries where there are possibilities [for peace],” Ron Dermer said in the interview, which took place Friday. “I don’t want to say this specific country or not, but there are several countries and we hope that we see another breakthrough very, very, soon — in the weeks, and months ahead.”

Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced on August 13 that they were establishing full diplomatic relations, in a US-brokered deal that also required Israel to suspend its plan to annex parts of the West Bank.

The historic agreement delivered a foreign policy victory to Trump, as he seeks reelection and reflected a changing Middle East in which shared concerns about Iran have largely overtaken traditional Arab support for the Palestinians.

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