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US pressing Niger to normalize ties with Israel

Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly discussed expanding the Abraham Accords during his recent visit to the West African country.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Israel, Jan. 30, 2023. Credit: David Azagury/U.S. Embassy in Israel.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Israel, Jan. 30, 2023. Credit: David Azagury/U.S. Embassy in Israel.

The United States is pressing Niger to join the Abraham Accords and normalize relations with Israel.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke about the matter with Niger President Mohamed Bazoum during the former’s visit to the West African nation in mid-March, Axios reported on Wednesday, citing a U.S. and an Israeli official.

The Trump administration-brokered accords normalized ties between the Jewish state and four Arab countries—the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan

Two weeks after his trip, Blinken briefed Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on the development, in a call joined by Niger’s top diplomat Hassoumi Massaoudou.

Cohen suggested inviting Niger to participate in the Negev Forum, which includes the U.S., Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt.

Niger is apparently willing to move forward with warming bilateral relations but is angling for deliverables from the Biden administration, said the report.

Israel maintained unofficial diplomatic relations with Niger in the 1960s but they were severed in 1973. The two countries renewed basic relations in 1996 after the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO, but Niger again broke off official communication in 2002 during the Palestinian terror war known as the Second Intifada. The countries have nevertheless reportedly upheld informal, mainly behind-the-scenes, relations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made improving ties with Africa a centerpiece of his administrations.

In February, Netanyahu inaugurated the Embassy of the Republic of Chad in Israel together with the president of Chad, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno.

“Israel and Chad established relations between our two countries with your late father. It is in our view a tremendously important relationship with a major country in the heart of Africa,” Netanyahu told the visiting leader.

“It is something that we want to carry to new levels, new heights, and your visit here in Israel and the opening of the embassy is a reflection of that. We believe that our cooperation can help not only advance our relations, but it is also part of Israel’s coming back to Africa and Africa coming back to Israel. We have common goals of security, prosperity and stability,” he added.

The biggest diplomatic prize would, however, be the forging of relations with Saudi Arabia.

Netanyahu is actively courting Riyadh to join the Abraham Accords, a move he says would constitute a “quantum leap” towards regional peace.

“Obviously, the next step could be not just another country but a quantum leap in expanding the circle of peace, and I’m talking of course about peace with Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu said earlier this year. “I think that if we can achieve this, maybe through gradual steps, maybe it will take some normalization steps, it will change Israel’s relationship with the rest of the Arab world.

“It will lead to the effective ending of the Israeli-Arab conflict—not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict [but] the Israeli-Arab conflict, and will also help normalize Israel’s relationship with a great part of the Muslim world,” he added.

Israel is also working to normalize ties with Mauritania, Somalia and Indonesia.

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