U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived on Thursday afternoon for a visit to Jerusalem's Western Wall, where he was accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
This is the first-ever visit of a top U.S. diplomat to the Western Wall with an accompaniment of an Israeli official.
In the past, most American officials avoided visiting the site because it is considered by the majority of the international community to be situated in a disputed territory that is not under Israeli sovereignty.
Pompeo revealed in briefing to reporters that the trip to the wall "is something I had talked about with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about doing some time ago, and it’s our first chance to go there together. I think it’s important. I think it’s symbolic that a senior American official go there with the prime minister of Israel.
Pompeo's trip there comes amid a stop in Israel as part of the secretary of state's Middle East tour, which started in Kuwait and is expected to end in Beirut later this week.
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Speaking to reporters during his trip there, the U.S. secretary of state refused to address a series of questions about a potential American recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, an area that was annexed by Israel following the 1967 war.
"I'm not going to comment," Pompeo said in response to a question whether U.S. President Donald Trump's administration was mulling the move. "The administration is considering a lot of things always, and I try to make sure we get answers before we talk about them publicly," he explained.
Asked what the administration's position was regarding the West Bank and the Golan Heights after the administration dropped the words "occupied territories" from an annual State Department human rights report, Pompeo responded: "We used that language in the Human Rights Report with great intentionality. We didn't make a mistake. It's there for a reason."
The U.S. secretary of state went on to clarify that this did not mean "a change in U.S. policy." He did stress that "it wasn't a mistake."
Pompeo also touched on the much-awaited peace plan a team spearheaded by Jared Kushner has been toiling on. Asked whether the U.S. will suggest a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said: "We want the Palestinian people, whether they live in the West Bank or in Gaza or, frankly, Palestinians that live anywhere in the world... we hope they have a brighter future as well."
On Wednesday, Pompeo and Netanyahu convened in Jerusalem, where the he told the prime minister that the region needs "candid dialogue" in order to achieve peace. The two also discussed the Iranian threat, energy and regional issues.
"If Israel wasn't in the Golan Heights, Iran would be in the Kinneret," Netanyahu said during the meeting, and added that it was time to recognize the region as under Israeli sovereignty.
"With a dark wave of anti-Semitism rising in Europe and in the United States, all nations, especially those in the West, must go to the barricades against bigotry," Pompeo said.