Trump 'Firmly Committed' to Restarting Peace Process, Pence Says in Egypt Ahead of Israel Visit

The U.S. vice president is due to arrive in Israel on Sunday night following a stop in Jordan; will not meet Palestinians, still fuming over Jerusalem

US Vice President Mike Pence meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (unseen) at the Presidential Palace in the capital Cairo on January 20, 2018.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP

WASHINGTON - Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday that President Donald Trump is "firmly committed" to restarting the Israeli Palestinian peace process, despite the fact that the Palestinian leadership has announced it will no longer accept the Trump administration as a mediator in light of the administration's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Speaking with reporters who accompanied him on his trip to Egypt, Pence said that during his meeting with President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, he "heard out" the Egyptian leader's concerns about the administration's Jerusalem policy.

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Pence stated that the Trump administration remains committed to the status quo regarding the holy sites in the city.

Pence also said that he pressed Sissi on issues of concern to the United States, such as human rights in Egypt. The next stop on Pence's trip is Jordan, where he is expected to land late on Saturday night. He will arrive to Israel on Sunday evening.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (unseen) at the Presidential Palace in the capital Cairo on January 20, 2018.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP

Pence kicked off a trip to the Middle East on Saturday with a visit to Egypt, where he pledged firm U.S. backing to the nation's fight against militants

Pence said ties between the two countries had never been stronger after a period of "drifting apart" and Trump sent his gratitude to Sissi for implementing economic reforms.

"We stand shoulder to shoulder with you in Egypt in the fight against terrorism," Pence said. 

Sissi said the two men discussed ways to eliminate the "disease and cancer" of terrorism and called Trump a friend. 

Full itinerary for U.S. Vice President Pence's visit Israel
Haaretz

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Pence's quick visit comes at the start of a three-country tour that also includes stops in Jordan and Israel. This is the highest-level visit from a U.S. official to the region since December, when Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. 

That decision, which reversed decades of U.S. policy and set in motion the process of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, upset leaders in the Arab world and prompted Palestinians to reject the United States as a broker for peace. 

Pence, a conservative Christian who was one of the driving forces behind the move, and Sissi did not discuss the Jerusalem decision during their public remarks in front of reporters. 

Egypt has faced security problems, including attacks by Islamic State militants in the North Sinai region. Trump has made the fight against Islamic State a top priority. 

Upon arriving at the palace where Pence and Sissi met, reporters traveling with the vice president initially were not allowed to exit their van and enter the building. Eventually they were admitted and allowed to attend part of the meeting. 

From Cairo, Pence heads to Jordan, where he will meet with King Abdullah, a close U.S. ally. Abdullah warned against declaring Jerusalem as Israel's capital, saying it would have a dangerous impact on regional stability and obstruct U.S. efforts to resume peace talks. 

Many people in Jordan are descendants of Palestinian refugees whose families left after the creation of Israel in 1948. 

Pence, whose wife, Karen, is accompanying him, will end his trip in Israel, where he will be warmly welcomed in the aftermath of Trump's decision. He plans to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, address the Israeli legislature and visit the Western Wall. 

Pence is not scheduled to meet Palestinian leaders. They were incensed by Trump's decision on Jerusalem, which upended the longstanding U.S. position that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians must determine the city's status. 

The Trump administration's recent announcement that it was withholding about half of the aid it was due to give to a United Nations relief agency that serves the Palestinians raised questions about fledgling U.S. efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and further undermined Arabs' faith that the United States can act as an impartial arbitrator. 

Pence also plans to visit with U.S. troops while he is in the region. 

Reuters contributed to this report