US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sought to reassure Israeli and Arab partners convening for a rare summit in Israel on Sunday that Washington would continue to counter any Iranian threat even as he promoted nuclear diplomacy with Tehran.
By Humeyra Pamuk
JERUSALEM – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sought to reassure Israeli and Arab partners convening for a rare summit in Israel on Sunday that Washington would continue to counter any Iranian threat even as he promoted nuclear diplomacy with Tehran.
The issue is likely to dominate the two-day summit which will include foreign ministers from three Arab states that normalised ties with Israel even as peacemaking with the Palestinians remains stalled. Blinken pledged in parallel to work on improving Palestinian conditions.
Blinken’s visit comes as some US allies in the region question President Joe Biden administration’s commitment and brace for fallout from an Iranian nuclear deal and the Ukrainian crisis.
The nuclear talks had been close to an agreement several weeks ago until Russia made last-minute demands of the United States, insisting that sanctions imposed on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine should not affect its trade with Iran.
Restoring a 2015 nuclear deal “is the best way to put Iran’s nuclear programme back in to the box it was in”, Blinken said.
But whether or not that happens, “our commitment to the core principle of Iran never acquiring a nuclear weapon is unwavering,” he said alongside Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid.
“The United States will continue to stand up to Iran when it threatens us or when it threatens our allies and partners.”
Attending the Lapid-hosted summit in a desert hotel later on Sunday and Monday will be the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, which were part of the so-called Abraham Accords brokered by the Trump administration in 2020 to normalise ties with Israel.
Egypt’s foreign minister, whose country on Saturday marked 43 years of peace with Israel, will also join the summit.
“Normalisation is becoming the new normal in the region,” Blinken said, adding that Washington hoped “to bring others in”.
This, he said, should entail “forg(ing) tangible improvements in the lives of Palestinians and preserving our long-standing goal of reaching a negotiated two-state solution”. Blinken meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah later on Sunday.
The venue for the foreign ministers’ meeting is Sde Boker, where Israel’s founding father and first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, retired and is buried. The remote Negev desert farm collective has long been a symbol of Israeli innovation.
It will provide an opportunity for delegates to hold discussions in repose, one Israeli official involved in the planning said, calling it “our version of Camp David”.
Sde Boker may also have provided an uncontroversial alternative to Jerusalem, which Israel considers its capital – a status not recognised by most countries in the absence of a resolution to Palestinian claims on the city.