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Blinken in Israel for 'Landmark' Arab Talks

Blinken in Israel for 'Landmark' Arab Talks

Sunday, 27 March, 2022 - 05:30
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Tel Aviv - AP

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Israel Sunday for a "historic" meeting with Arab countries which have normalized relations with the Jewish state in the US-brokered Abraham Accords.


Blinken, who arrived in Tel Aviv Saturday evening, will meet with his counterparts from Israel, Morocco, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in the Negev desert Sunday and Monday.


Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid described it as a "historic summit".


Blinken's visit, the first stop in a trip that will also take him to the West Bank, Algeria and Morocco -- where he will hold talks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed -- is focused in part on building support for Ukraine after the Russian invasion.


US officials say two other key issues are on the agenda for the trip: quelling the Jewish state's worries about a looming nuclear deal with Iran, and discussing the potential global wheat shortage caused by the Ukraine war that could deal a heavy blow to the import-dependent Middle East.


"We know this pain is keenly felt in the Middle East and North Africa, where most countries import at least half of their wheat", much of it from Ukraine, State Department Acting Assistant Secretary Yael Lempert said ahead of the trip, AFP reported.


The war "will only continue to increase the price of basic staples like bread in the region, taking money from the pockets of the hardest working and most vulnerable families," she said.


The trip comes as the United States and Iran are in the final stages of negotiating a revival of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which aimed to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapons capacity.


The administration of former US president Donald Trump quit the deal unilaterally in 2018 and reimposed punishing economic sanctions, and Iran has since resumed many of its sensitive nuclear activities.


The conclusion of a renewed accord could come in a matter of "days", EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who is coordinating talks with Tehran, said Saturday.


"We are very close but there are still some issues pending," Borrell told reporters on the sidelines of the Doha Forum in Qatar.


Blinken will also meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.


After Israel, Blinken will travel to Morocco and Algeria to talk about regional security and the disputed territory of Western Sahara.


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