Jerusalem (AFP) – U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken arrived in Israel on Saturday for landmark talks with the Arab state to normalize ties with the Jewish state in the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords.
Top diplomats from the United States, Israel, Morocco, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates will meet on Sunday and Monday in the Negev desert to mark the shift in Arab-Israeli relations that begins in late 2020.
Blinken’s visit is the first stop on the trip, which will also see him travel to the West Bank, Algeria and Morocco – where he will hold talks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the de facto ruler of the UAE – Part of the focus was on building support for Ukraine after the Russian invasion.
U.S. officials said two other key issues were on the agenda for the visit: quelling fears in the Jewish state about an imminent nuclear deal with Iran, and discussing a potential global wheat shortage from the Ukraine war, which could hit imports hard. Dependent on the Middle East.
“We know this pain is being felt in the Middle East and North Africa, with most countries receiving at least half of their wheat imports from Ukraine,” Acting Assistant Secretary of State Yale Lempert said ahead of the trip.
The war “will only continue to raise the price of basic staples like bread in the region, taking money out of the pockets of the hardest working and most vulnerable families,” she said.
Concerns about the Iran nuclear deal
The trip comes as the United States and Iran are in the final stages of negotiations to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.
Iran has since resumed many sensitive nuclear activities after the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and reimposed punitive economic sanctions.
U.S. officials said a deal hinged on one or two key issues, but “difficult choices” had to be made if Tehran wanted a deal.
But the potential deal worries Israel and U.S. allies in the Gulf, who see Iran as a threat.
In February, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he was “deeply disturbed” by the prospect of a new nuclear deal, which Israel feared would not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Ahead of the talks, Bennett sent a rare message to regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia, expressing “sorrow” over Friday’s attacks by Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen, including an oil that turned into hell near Formula 1 Plant races in Jeddah.
“This attack is further proof that Iran’s regional aggression is endless,” Bennett tweeted Saturday night.
Talks with the UAE
Blinken will also meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Palestinians remain concerned they are being left behind amid a U.S.-backed push by Arab governments to strengthen ties with Israel and make Iran a major threat.
The Trump administration has cut back on support for the Palestinians and closed the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem devoted to Palestinian relations.
Biden has promised to reopen consulates, but that move has not come a year after he took office.
The consulate issue “will definitely be a topic of discussion,” Lempert said.
Israel’s Blinken will then travel to Morocco and Algeria to discuss regional security and the disputed territory of Western Sahara that divides the two neighbours.
Also in Morocco, he will hold talks with Mohammed bin Zayed of the UAE, who has become a major political force in the region.
The talks with Mohamed bin Zayed will cover everything from relations with US rivals Russia, China and Iran to the war in Yemen and soaring oil prices.
“This is a valuable and very important strategic relationship for us,” Lempert said.
© 2022 AFP