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MIDDLE EAST

Here’s What Happened During Mike Pence’s Middle East Visit

Pence's middle east visit

Mike Pence’s Middle East Visit: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence concluded his four-day Middle East visit to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel amid tension in the region and a government shutdown that occurred during his trip.

The trip was complicated by the fact that Palestine called on Arab nations not to welcome the former Indiana governor after the U.S’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and freeze $65 million in financial aid to the U.N Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

Here’s the sum-up of his activities in each country he visited.

Egypt

Pence landed in Cairo on Jan.20, after the Congress failed to reach an agreement on spending plans to avert a partial shutdown of the federal government.

He met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi in a 2.5-hour session. The meeting focused on Sisi’s objection to President Donald Trump’s controversial policy to endorse Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and economic ties between the two nations.

Pence characterized Sisi’s complaints as “disagreements between friends”.  The 58-year-old vice president expressed his commitment to a two-state solution for ending the prolonged conflict between Israel and Palestine. Pence also put pressure on Sisi to cut ties with North Korea and to stop attacks on Christians after a shooting outside a Coptic Christian church killed 10 in December.

Jordan

After leaving Egypt, Pence continued his trip in Jordan.  He held talks with King Jordan II and admitted having a”very frank discussion” with his counterpart, as the New York Times reported. Pence sought allies to support his boss’ decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

There were some small-scale protests against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem in Amman last month. And there was a protest ahead of Pence’s visit, with protesters holding a banner that declared Pence was not welcomed in Jordan.

Pence’s visit to Jordan posed a dilemma for the country, which is home to more than two million Palestinian refugees.

Despite Jordan’s support for East Jerusalem as a capital of Palestine, some political analysts said it would be unlikely for the country to go against the United States, given that Jordan has been reliant heavily on US military and economic aid since the 1950s.

In 2015, Jordan’s government and the United States signed a three-year deal with a U.S commitment to providing $1 billion annually in foreign assistance.

Israel

Pence ended his foreign trip with a stop in Israel, where he was welcomed by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During his visit, Pence stressed his support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and vowed to relocate the U.S embassy there from Tel Aviv at the end of 2019.

Pence, accompanied by U.S ambassador to Israel David Friedman and the White House Special Envoy to Middle East Jason Greenblatt, visited one of the holiest sites in the nation, the Western Wall. He visited the site on Jan.23 after delivering a speech to Israel’s parliament Knesset, which was praised by Israelis and denounced by Palestinians.

The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, is a place of worship sacred to the Jewish people, located in East Jerusalem. All television stations in Israel broadcasted Pence’s visit to the Wailing Wall live.

What’s next after Pence’s visit?

While Pence was busy persuading Middle East allies to accept his boss’ Jerusalem policy, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with the foreign ministers of the European Union member countries, seeking support from the bloc to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Abbas aimed to bring the EU members into a forum that could end the role of the U.S in the Israel-Palestine peace process.

But, despite the EU’s opposition to follow Trump’s footstep to name Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,  most European countries are not likely to push Washington too much on the issue. Even if they are willing to do so, they understand that Netanyahu will firmly refuse to participate in any diplomacy effort not chaired by the U.S.

Pence’s visit didn’t seem to focus on other vital issues such as Iran’s increasing influence in the region, as the nation sends troops to support Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Houthi militants in Yemen. The vice president mentioned Iran several times, but Pence did not have any obvious solutions to contain Iran’s role in the Middle East.

According to Michael Knight from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the U.S faces a competition with Iran to seize the existing gaps left by the Islamic State.

Iran’s Nuclear Deal

One of the main issues regarding Iran is a nuclear deal. Despite the fact that Iran is believed to be in compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that limits Iran’s nuclear programs as a kickback of the removal of economic sanctions, the United States does not seem to be satisfied.

Involve Jordan

Washington has repeatedly stated that it supports a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The U.S supports an independent Palestine state by including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but excluding East Jerusalem.

For some it’s seen as very awkward that the U.S and its allies exclude Jordan in negotiations on a Palestinian state despite Jordan being home to millions of Palestinian refugees. During the October talk involving Fatah and Hamas, Jordan was not invited by the host, Egypt.

Is Jordan paying the price for supporting Palestine? Was Pence’s Middle East visit and failure to meet with any Palestinian officials a sign of a more aggressively pro-Israel stance? These are some of the questions created after Pence’s middle east visit.

Perhaps, at minimum the U.S should consider involving Jordan as a peace broker in the region, given its contribution to helping Palestinian refugees.

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Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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