Blinken to visit Israel, West Bank, Morocco and Algeria

The Russia-Ukraine war, Arab-Israeli normalisation and the two-state solution are on the agenda during the US secretary of state’s visit, the United States says.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a joint media conference with Lithuania's foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Vilnius.
Antony Blinken will 'consult with partners on a range of regional and global priorities', the US Department of State says about his March 26-30 trip [File: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo]

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Israel, the occupied West Bank, Morocco and Algeria in the coming days, the US Department of State has announced, to discuss regional issues as well as the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The department said on Thursday that Blinken’s tour, set to take place from March 26 to 30, would begin in Israel and the West Bank, and end in Algeria.

The top United States diplomat will also meet with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan while in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, to “discuss regional security and international developments”, State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

Blinken will “consult with partners on a range of regional and global priorities, including the Russian government’s war on Ukraine, Iran’s destabilizing activities, the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements with Israel, Israeli-Palestinian relations, and preserving the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other topics”, Price said.

The visit comes as the administration of US President Joe Biden pushes to get its Middle East allies to join in the Western-led pressure campaign against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Washington is also negotiating indirectly with Tehran to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which would grant sanctions relief to the Iranians in exchange for scaling back their nuclear programme. Israel, the top US ally in the region, opposes restoring the agreement.

In Israel, Blinken will meet with top Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett; he will then meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, Price said in Thursday’s statement.

“In these meetings, the Secretary will emphasize the importance of strengthening US-Palestinian relations, and advancing freedom, security and prosperity for the Palestinian people,” Price added.

The Biden administration often invokes advancing the rights of Palestinians. However, Palestine solidarity activists have slammed Washington’s unconditional support for Israel and reluctance to criticise Israeli policies that leading human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, have described as “apartheid” against Palestinians.

From Israel, Blinken will travel to Morocco, which normalised relations with the Israeli government in 2020 as part of the so-called Abraham Accords, brokered under former US President Donald Trump.

The 2020 agreements, which saw the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan normalise relations with Israel, angered Palestinian leaders, who rejected the push as a “stab in the back” to the Palestinian cause. The Biden administration has backed these deals.

In December 2020, Trump also recognised Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara – a move that Biden has not reversed. The State Department’s statement detailing Blinken’s upcoming trip to Morocco did not mention the issue.

“In Morocco, [Blinken] will meet with Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita and other senior government officials to exchange views on regional issues and bilateral cooperation, as well as advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Price said.

The top US diplomat will conclude his trip in Algeria, where he will hold talks with “President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra to discuss regional security and stability, commercial cooperation, advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms, and other areas of mutual concern”.

The State Department suggested that the crisis in Ukraine will be a constant topic throughout the trip. “During the course of his trip, the Secretary will emphasize to all of the foreign leaders he meets that the United States stands in solidarity with the government and people of Ukraine in the face of the Kremlin’s aggression,” Price said.

“We will continue to work closely with our allies and partners to impose further costs on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his enablers if Putin does not change course.”

Source: Al Jazeera