CHICAGO: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Israel, the West Bank, Morocco and Algeria between March 26 and 30 to discuss the war in Ukraine and the destabilizing activities of Iran, and to strengthen support for Middle East peace, State Department officials announced on Thursday.
During a briefing attended by Arab News, Yael Lempert, the acting assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said the priorities during the trip will include strengthening ties with Israel, “preserving” the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “as an outcome of peace negotiations,” and discussions about the reestablishment of the US consulate in Jerusalem to address Palestinian needs and concerns.
After meeting leaders in Israel and Palestine, Lempert said Blinken will travel to Morocco and Algeria to discuss bilateral cooperation, human rights and a host of other regional issues.
“While there he is going to engage with our partners on a range of regional and global priorities, including Ukraine, Iran, the Abraham accords and normalization agreements with Israel, preserving the prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and building support for the UN’s engagement on Western Sahara, among other topics,” she added. She pointed out that this will be Blinken’s second trip to Israel and Palestine as secretary of state, and his first to Morocco and Algeria.
“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 on the gains from the Abraham Accords.
“While there, he will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and President Isaac Herzog.”
Lempert said Blinken will also meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and members of the Palestinian government, as well as representatives of civil society in Palestine.
“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,” she said.
Lempert noted that Ramadan begins in April and said Blinken will “reiterate the importance of actions to build trust and enhance stability and security, and the need to avoid steps that can inflame tensions on the ground.”
In Morocco, Blinken will meet 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, and he will also engage with Moroccan youth,” she said.
While in Rabat, Blinken also plans to meet Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, to discuss “regional security and international developments.” Lempert said their discussions will include a range of topics including Iran, Yemen, Syria, global energy markets and Ethiopia.
Blinken’s regional tour concludes in Algiers, she added, where he will meet President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra to discuss regional security and stability, commercial cooperation, and the advancement of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
“The secretary will also officially inaugurate the United States as the ‘Country of Honor’ at the Algiers International Trade Fair, the largest trade show of its kind in Africa,” she said.
In addition, Blinken will meet representatives of US businesses operating in Algeria to discuss the enhancement of economic ties and promotion of US-Algeria trade and investment.
“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 and support with the government and people of Ukraine,” Lempert said.
She emphasized that during all of his meetings, Blinken will raise the issue of the conflict in Ukraine to build support for the position of NATO and the US in favor of imposing “further costs on (Vladimir) Putin and his enablers” if the Russian president does not “change course.”
Asked about US President Joe Biden’s campaign promise to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem, Lempert would only say “that will certainly be a topic of discussion in (Blinken’s) meetings in Israel and the West Bank.”
Regarding the growing controversy over plans by Israeli authorities to evict more than 300 Palestinians from their homes in the village of Al-Walaja, near Jerusalem, Lempert acknowledged that this was also one of the topics that would be addressed during meetings.