U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held closed-door meetings Wednesday with Bahrain's royal family and top officials in the United Arab Emirates amid the Trump administration's push for Arab nations to recognize Israel.
Pompeo already traveled to Israel and Sudan on this trip through the Mideast, one that included him offering a recorded message in Jerusalem supporting President Donald Trump's reelection campaign for the Republican National Convention. That speech cast aside his own advice to American diplomats to be apolitical and bulldozed a long tradition of non-partisanship by previous secretaries of state.
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In Manama, Pompeo tweeted that he met with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and his son, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, on Wednesday morning.
“We discussed the importance of building regional peace and stability, including the importance of Gulf unity and countering Iran’s malign influence in the region,” Pompeo wrote.
Pompeo also said he discussed efforts to “advance greater unity among Gulf countries.” That’s as his plane flew over Qatar on its way to the United Arab Emirates, one of four Arab nations along with Bahrain now boycotting Doha over a yearslong political dispute. Typically, Bahraini and Emirati aircraft avoid Qatari airspace as they’ve closed their own airspace to Qatar Airways.
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His meetings in Bahrain come after a U.S.-brokered deal announced August 13 saw the United Arab Emirates and Israel open diplomatic relations.
Bahrain, a small island nation just off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, has a historic Jewish community. The kingdom has slowly encouraged ties to Israel, with two U.S.-based rabbis in 2017 saying King Hamad himself promoted the idea of ending the boycott of Israel by Arab nations. That boycott had been in place to offer Palestinians support in their efforts to form an independent state.
In a statement after the meeting, the state-run Bahrain News Agency said King Hamad “stressed the importance of intensifying efforts to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” The king said that includes a two-state solution for an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital — a longtime Arab stance.
Bahrain is also home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet and remains a close security partner of the U.S.
Pompeo landed later Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the seven-sheikhdom federation of the UAE. There, he met with his Emirati counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the nation's national security adviser, Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
The officials discussed issues such as Iran and thw “mutual support for de-escalation and a lasting cease-fire in Libya,” a later State Department statement said. Pompeo himself on Twitter praised the deal between the UAE and Israel as “the most significant step toward peace in the Middle East in over 25 years” — even though the two countries had never been at war with each other.
The diplomatic recognition of Israel may help the United Arab Emirates purchase advanced American weapons, such as the F-35 fighter jet. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered public objections to the deal, Trump has said the Emiratis wanted to purchase the jet after the accord.
As a rule, Israel opposes the sale of F-35s and other advanced weapons to any country in the Middle East to maintain what it calls its “qualitative military edge.” Israel now is the only country in the region to have the fighter jet after a deal with Turkey collapsed over Ankara's purchase of Russia's S-400 anti-aircraft missile system.
While in Abu Dhabi, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told the state-run WAM news agency that “incredibly positive conversations going on” between Israel, the UAE and the U.S. over issues, including the F-35 sale to Abu Dhabi.
“With respect to the F-35 or any military hardware or infrastructure, I keep reminding people that it is important to know that the UAE and U.S. military and security relationship is robust and has been there for decades," Ortagus said. “This is not a new relationship. This is a sophisticated relationship that we have had for decades.”