(March 24, 2022 / JNS) Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert previewed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to the Middle East next week, where he will be meeting with a number of Israeli and Palestinian officials.
The trip, which will be his second as secretary of state, will last from March 26-30, with stops in Israel, the West Bank, Morocco and Algeria.
While not going into much detail, Lempert told reporters during a conference call on Thursday that Blinken expects to cover the war in Ukraine, Iran, the Abraham Accords, preserving the prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and building support for the U.N.’s engagement in Western Sahara.
In Israel, Blinken plans to meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and President Isaac Herzog.
“During his visit to Israel and the West Bank, the secretary will underscore the United States’ ironclad commitment to Israeli security, coordination on Ukraine and Iran, and work to build upon the gains from the Abraham Accords,” said Lempert.
Lempert said she anticipates that the role Israel is playing in the Ukraine-Russia conflict will be an important topic of discussion. She said America appreciates the role that Israel is playing in trying to mediate between the two sides but did not speculate whether the conflict in Ukraine or negotiations to re-enter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran will be prioritized over the other.
“I can predict with assurance that both of those are going to be really at the top of the agenda,” she said.
Blinken will also meet with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah as well as representatives from Palestinian civil society.
“During the visit, Secretary Blinken will affirm the commitment of the United States to a two-state solution and to greater freedom, security and prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis alike,” said Lempert.
With important religious holidays coming up, including Passover, Easter and Ramadan, Lempert said that Blinken will emphasize the importance of action that builds trust and the need to avoid actions that can inflame tensions.
Lempert said Blinken will also bring up the topic of a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem, which the Israeli government opposes, with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
The secretary of state will also make stops in Morocco and Algeria for the first time since taking office. There, he will meet with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita and other senior officials to exchange views on regional issues, bilateral cooperation, advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms, and meet with local youth in Rabat.
In Morocco, Blinken also plans to meet with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to discuss regional security and economic issues, such as Iran, Yemen, Syria, Ethiopia, global energy markets and strengthening of the Abraham Accords.
The trip will culminate in Algiers, where he will discuss many of the same topics with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra. He will also inaugurate the United States at the Algiers International Trade Fair—the largest trade show in Africa—and meet with American businesses.
“During the course of this trip, the secretary will emphasize to all the foreign leaders he meets with that the United States stands in solidarity and support with the government and people of Ukraine. He will affirm the need for [Russian President] Vladimir Putin to enter his premeditated, unprovoked and unjustified war on Ukraine,” she said.
Lempert added that the region is familiar with the devastating effects of Russian military action in places like Syria, Libya and Mali, where she said Russian military and paramilitary forces have exploited conflicts for “Moscow’s own selfish interests,” posing a great threat to regional stability and global commerce.
“We know this pain is keenly felt in the Middle East and North Africa, where most countries import at least half of their wheat—Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Qatar and Tunisia import at least a quarter of their wheat specifically from Ukraine,” said Lempert. “Putin’s reckless war will only continue to increase the price of basic staples like bread in the region, taking money from the pockets of the hardest-working and most vulnerable families as he invades a sovereign country without provocation. This war must stop, and we will work hand in hand with our partners the world over to get this.”
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