WARSAW, Poland, March 26 — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken flies to Israel today as the Ukraine war rages, aiming to rally regional support for Kyiv and quell the Jewish state's worries about a looming nuclear deal with Iran.
On the first stop of a tour that will include the West Bank, Morocco and Algeria, Blinken will join a mini-summit of counterparts from Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco, the so-called “Abraham Accords” countries that have normalised relations with Israel.
He will fly in from Poland, where he accompanied President Joe Biden in meetings to shore up Western backing for Ukraine.
The top US diplomat aims to show that the United States still has a deep interest in the Middle East even as the region has dropped in importance for Washington as China, and now Russia's invasion of Ukraine, have risen to the top of priorities.
He also hopes to rally support for the US and NATO effort to blunt the Russian aggression, amid heavy economic fallout from the war, including spiking energy prices and the threat of a wheat shortage that could hit Arab countries severely.
Worries over Iran Nuclear Deal
The trip comes as the United States and Iran are in the final stages of negotiating a revival of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which aimed to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapons capacity.
The administration of former US president Donald Trump quit the deal unilaterally in 2018, and since then Iran has advanced its nuclear programme to the point that Western experts think it is not far from the “break-out” stage of becoming a real nuclear threat.
US officials say reaching a deal hinges on one or two key issues, but that Tehran has to make “difficult choices” if it wants an agreement.
“I want to be clear that an agreement is neither imminent nor is it certain,” US state department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday.
But the possible deal leaves Israel and US allies in the Gulf region who see Iran as a menace particularly nervous.
In February, 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.
Talks with UAE
Separate from meeting Bennett, Blinken will also meet Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Palestinians remain concerned that they are being left behind in the US-backed push for Arab governments to boost relations with Israel and the focus on Iran as a regional threat.
The Trump administration slashed support for the Palestinians and closed the US consulate in Jerusalem dedicated to Palestinian relations.
Biden promised to reopen the consulate, but a year into his administration that move has not come.
The consulate issue “will certainly be a topic of discussion”, State Department Acting Assistant Secretary Yael Lempert said.
Blinken will spend tomorrow and Monday in Israel before flying to Morocco, where he will meet top officials but also see the UAE's de facto ruler, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who has become a major political force in the region.
Talks with Mohammed bin Zayed will cover ground ranging from relations with US rivals Russia, China and Iran to the war in Yemen and skyrocketing oil prices.
“This is a valued and really important strategic relationship for us,” said Lempert.
The Emirates have come under pressure to increase oil output to pull down prices as the Ukraine war rages, but so far it has adhered to the production limits of the OPEC+ producer alliance, which includes Russia.
Washington was miffed last week when Moscow-supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, politically isolated since civil war erupted in his country in 2011, made a surprise visit to the UAE. — AFP