US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he hoped more Arab countries would establish diplomatic ties with Israel, as he arrived in Jerusalem to start a five-day Middle East tour on the back of a US-brokered deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday, the top US diplomat said: “I am hopeful that we will see other Arab nations join this.”
“The opportunity for them to work alongside, to recognise the state of Israel and to work alongside them will not only increase Middle East stability, but it will improve the lives for the people of their own countries as well,” Pompeo said.
In the coming days, he will also visit Sudan, Bahrain and the UAE, according to State Department statement. Officials said stops in Oman and Qatar are also possible.
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.
Both Pompeo and Netanyahu criticised the lack of international support for the US demand for the restoration of UN sanctions against Iran.
After failing to extend an arms embargo on Iran, Washington has been pushing at the Security Council to have “snapback” sanctions imposed over what Washington says is Iran’s violation of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
US President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from that agreement in 2018.
“We are determined to use every tool that we have to ensure they can’t get access to high-end weapon systems,” Pompeo said. “The rest of the world should join us.”
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.
Pompeo will also meet Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa before meeting UAE foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to discuss the Israel deal, according to the State Department.
He is expected be followed to many of these destinations by Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law.
Saudi Arabia, in keeping with decades of policy by the majority of Arab states, has said it will not follow the UAE’s example until Israel has signed a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Neither Pompeo’s nor Kushner’s trip is expected to result in announcements of immediate breakthroughs, but both are aimed at building on the success of the Israel-UAE agreement by finalising at least one, and potentially more, normalisation deals between Arab countries and Israel in the near future.
The administration has forged ahead with those efforts over Palestinian objections and without any indication the Palestinians are willing to enter negotiations with Israel.
The Arab world had long held that a settlement to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a prerequisite for a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.