Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is meeting Sunday with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Rome, marking Lapid's first international tour as Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.
In his opening statement, Lapid promised to work toward regaining bipartisan support for Israel in Congress. "There is no relationship more important to Israel than the United States of America. There is no friend more loyal to the United States than Israel," Lapid said.
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"In the past few years, mistakes were made. Israel's bi-partisan standing was hurt. We will fix those mistakes together," Lapid said.
"We will have disagreements, but they are not about the essence, they are about how to get there," Lapid said. "Israel has some serious reservations about the Iran nuclear deal being put together in Vienna. We believe the way to discuss those disagreements is through direct and professional conversations, not in press conferences."
Lapid also praised the U.S. patronage of normalization agreements with Gulf nations and said that the two will work together "to minimize conflict between us and the Palestinians, while making life better for Israelis and Palestinians alike." Blinken, however, said the normalization accords "are not a substitute for engaging on the issues between Israelis and Palestinians that need to be resolved."
Earlier on Sunday, Blinken held a phone call with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to discuss the country's commitment to normalizing relations with Israel after their agreement last year. Both also expressed hopes that further countries will sign up to normalize relations with Israel.
During his trip to Rome, Lapid also met with Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani, who he thanked for a "warm and candid" conversation. Israel's foreign minister said that they discussed the normalization agreements across the Middle East, and the need "to expand" the process to other countries. The counterparts also spoke about regional challenges, and "most notably Iran."
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'No surprises,' and no love lost
U.S. Secretary of State Blinken also redoubled on the "deep, enduring, abiding commitment on the part of the United States to Israel’s security."
Lapid and Blinken already spoke by phone over a week ago, during which they agreed to proceed with a shared policy of “no surprises" in relations between the two countries.
Lapid previously met Blinken at his hotel in Jerusalem a few weeks ago, when he was still leader of the opposition, during Blinken's Mideast visit following Israel's 11-day conflict with Gaza. Blinken is currently in Europe for a series of political meetings on various issues.
The two are expected to advance working relations between the Bennett-Lapid government and the Biden administration, including discussing U.S. efforts to reach a new nuclear deal with Iran, the security and political situation in the region, and promoting normalization with Hamas.
While in Rome, Lapid will also meet with the Bahraini foreign minister, Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, and Italy's foreign minister, Luigi di Maio. Lapid will fly back to Israel immediately following the meetings.
Later this week, Lapid is expected to pay a historic visit to the United Arab Emirates, where he will inaugurate the Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi, the Consulate General in Dubai, and meet with the UAE foreign minister.
Lapid will be the most senior Israeli minister to pay an official visit to the Emirates since the Abraham Accords were signed last September.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prevented outgoing government ministers from making official visits to the Gulf States and tried to arrange an official trip for himself close to election time. The initiative was eventually shelved due to the pandemic and due to his wife Sarah’s hospitalization at the time.
Reuters contributed to this report.