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US VP Pence Delays Middle East Trip over Congressional Vote

US VP Pence Delays Middle East Trip over Congressional Vote

Tuesday, 19 December, 2017 - 09:30
US Vice President Mike Pence. (Getty Images)

US Vice President Mike Pence postponed on Monday his scheduled trip to the Middle East in order to remain in Washington for a congressional vote, White House officials announced.

He was set to visit Egypt and Israel at a time of uproar in the region over US President Donald Trump’s December 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Pence had been expected to depart for Egypt on Tuesday night, followed by a visit to Israel and then a meeting with US troops in Germany. Instead, the trip will be rescheduled for the week of January 14, officials told reporters.

The vice president's office had originally planned to leave on Saturday night for Israel but pushed back his departure because of the pending tax bill.

“The vice president is committed to seeing the tax cut through to the finish line,” said Alyssa Farah, a spokeswoman for Pence. “The vice president looks forward to traveling to Egypt and Israel in January.”

Pence has been a key figure in the Republican effort to overhaul US tax law. He could provide a tie-breaking vote in the Senate if needed, though on Monday it looked like bill has enough votes among Senate Republicans to pass.

Pence was to have spent three days in the region with stops in Cairo and Jerusalem, the first high-level official to visit after Trump’s move on Jerusalem.

The vice president had been scheduled to be in Cairo on Wednesday for a meeting with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and was expected to arrive in Israel later Wednesday.

Pence had been slated to hold meetings Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and deliver an address to the Knesset. Pence was ending his trip to Israel with a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

The status of Jerusalem, which holds Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites, is one of the thorniest obstacles to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, who were furious over Trump’s move and have declined to meet with Pence. The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the full city.

White House officials said the delay was not related to the reaction in the region to Trump’s decision.

Even with the postponement to January, the trip will be overshadowed by Trump’s decision on Jerusalem.

Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal capital, while Palestinians want the capital of an independent state of theirs to be in the city’s eastern sector, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move never recognized internationally.

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