Blinken to attend Israeli-Arab summit clouded by Iran and Ukraine
Washington's top diplomat will try to deepen Israeli-Arab rapprochement at a summit in Israel on Sunday where he may also face pushback against the emerging Iran nuclear deal and questions about the U.S.-Russia struggle over Ukraine.
Kicking off a regional tour, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett before joining Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and counterparts from four Arab countries at a desert retreat.
Topping the agenda are the Iran nuclear talks, about which Israel and Gulf Arab states have voiced strong misgivings, and Russia's month-long invasion of Ukraine, a conflict in which Israel has emerged as a potential mediator.
"I think he (Blinken) will hear a very strong position (on Iran) from all of the countries (at the summit)," Eitan Naeh, Israel's ambassador to Bahrain, told public broadcaster Kan.
Attending will be foreign ministers from United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, three Arab nations that 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.
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.
Blinken's visit comes at a time when ties with several countries in the Middle East face challenges as key allies such as Israel and the UAE question the Biden administration's commitment to the region.
While Washington's strategic focus has been on China, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has further complicated U.S. foreign policy priorities, leaving it to grapple with challenges on several fronts.
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.
Blinken is set to visit the West Bank, Morocco and Algeria. He will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, the State Department said in a statement.