Blinken on mission in the Middle East and Africa

CRUCIAL TRAVEL US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a meeting of the North Atlantic Council during a summit at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on Thursday March 24, 2022 (March 25 in Manila). AFP PHOTO

WASHINGTON DC: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Israel, the West Bank, Morocco and Algeria from March 26-30 to discuss the war in Ukraine, Israeli-Palestinian relations and Iran, the Department of Defense announced. State Thursday (Friday in Manila).

Blinken will meet Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas separately in Ramallah on the first leg of the trip, and while in Morocco he will meet with the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Mohammad bin Zayed.

Discussions will focus on “the Russian government’s war against Ukraine, Iran’s destabilizing activities, the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements with Israel, Israeli-Palestinian relations and the preservation of the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the State Department spokesperson said. said Ned Price.

Iran nuclear deal

The trip comes as the United States is on the verge of reaching an agreement with Iran to restore the 2015 agreement limiting Tehran’s nuclear development program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against the country.

In February, Bennett said he was “deeply troubled” by the prospect of a new nuclear deal, which Israel fears will not prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

However, the deal is still unfinished and Washington has warned it could soon move to a “plan B” to deal with Iran’s nuclear challenge if Tehran does not back down on a few crucial final points of the talks.

Blinken’s visit also comes amid Israeli efforts to find a solution to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has caused heavy casualties for both sides and shows no signs of abating.

Underscoring Israel’s close ties to Moscow and kyiv, Bennett had regular phone calls with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin, including a three-hour meeting with Putin at the Kremlin on March 5.

But nothing concrete seems to come from the mediation of Israel.

west bank

This will be Blinken’s second trip to the West Bank to meet the aging Abbas.

In May 2021, he visited to help cement a ceasefire between Israeli forces and militants in Gaza, and restore support for the Palestinians that had been cut by the previous Trump administration.

He also promised to reopen a US consulate dedicated to Palestinians in Jerusalem, which Trump had closed.

But the Palestinians say their fight with Israel remains low on President Joe Biden’s priorities, despite his administration’s stated commitment to the possibility of creating an independent Palestinian state.

The growing influence of the UAE

The meeting in Morocco comes as the United Arab Emirates has displayed growing political influence in the region, showing an open door to Israel but also maintaining stable relations with Iran.

The UAE has also played a key role in Saudi Arabia’s fight against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

But he strengthened relations with American rivals Russia and China and refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine.

The Emirates have come under heavy pressure to increase oil production to bring down prices in the wake of the war in Ukraine, but so far they have adhered to the production limits of the oil producers’ alliance. OPEC+, which includes Russia.

Washington was upset last week when Moscow-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, politically isolated since civil war broke out in his country in 2011, paid a surprise visit to the United Arab Emirates.

Meanwhile, a proposal for Blinken to visit Dubai was dropped, although US officials say the two issues were unrelated.

Earlier this month, Yousef al-Otaiba, the Emirati ambassador to the United States, said bilateral relations were “going through a stress test”.

Algerian gas

In Morocco, Blinken will meet his counterpart, Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.

Rabat normalized relations with Israel in December 2020 as part of the revolutionary Abraham Accords.

But he was also hesitant to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In Algeria, he will meet President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra for talks on regional security and trade relations.

Algeria is one of Europe’s main suppliers of natural gas, playing a crucial role after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last month halted the opening of a major new gas pipeline linking the Russia to Germany.

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