Mar 27, 2022: According to a report by the AFP, U.S secretary of state, Antony Blinken was in Israel Sunday for a “historic” meeting with Arab countries which have normalised relations with the Jewish state in the US-brokered Abraham Accords.
After arriving in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening, Blinken will meet with his counterparts from Israel, Morocco, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in the Negev desert on Sunday and Monday to discuss changes in Arab-Israeli relations starting in late 2020.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called it a “historic summit.”
Ahead of the talks, Israel PM Naftali Bennett sent a rare message to regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia, expressing “sorrow” over a wave of attacks by Iran-backed Yemeni rebels on Friday that hit targets including an oil plant near the Formula One race in Jeddah.
Blinken’s visit is the first leg of a trip that will also take him to the West Bank, Algeria and Morocco – where he will hold talks with the real ruler of the UAE, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi – part of which is building support for Ukraine after the Russian invasion.
The two other key issues are on the agenda for the trip: quelling the Jewish state’s worries about a looming nuclear deal with Iran, and discussing the potential global wheat shortage caused by the Ukraine war that could deal a heavy blow to the import-dependent Middle East.
“We know this pain is keenly felt in the Middle East and North Africa, where most countries import at least half of their wheat”, much of it from Ukraine, State Department Acting Assistant Secretary Yael Lempert said ahead of the trip.
The visit comes as the United States and Iran are in the final stages of negotiating a revised 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action aimed at preventing Tehran from developing a nuclear weapons capability, the renewed version of which could be finalised within days according to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
“We are very close but there are still some issues pending,” Borrell told reporters on the sidelines of the Doha Forum in Qatar.
The deal is an irritant to Israel however as Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he was “deeply troubled” by the prospect of a new nuclear deal, which Israel fears would not prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Amid Palestinian concerns that they are being forgotten in the US-backed push for Arab governments to boost relations with Israel and focus on Iran as their principal threat, Blinken will also meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Former President Donald Trump’s administration slashed support for the Palestinians and closed the U.S consulate in Jerusalem dedicated to Palestinian relations.
Biden promised to reopen the consulate, but a year into his administration that move has not come.
After Israel, Blinken will travel to Morocco and Algeria to talk about regional security and the disputed territory of Western Sahara, where he will also hold talks with the UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed, who has become a major political force in the region.
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