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Blinken lauds ‘significant’ first post-normalization visit by Lapid in Morocco

Secretary says Biden administration will continue working with Israel and Morocco to strengthen all aspects of their new partnership and create more peaceful future for region

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about infrastructure investment at the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering on Aug. 9, 2021, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about infrastructure investment at the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering on Aug. 9, 2021, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

NEW YORK — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed Wednesday’s visit by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in Morocco as Jerusalem and Rabat built on the normalization agreement signed last year between their two countries.

Blinken in a statement called the visit, along with the upcoming reopening of the Israeli liaison office in Rabat, “significant for Israel, Morocco, and the broader region.”

“The United States will continue to work with Israel and Morocco to strengthen all aspects of our partnerships and create a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous future for all the people of the Middle East,” Blinken said.

The administration says that the normalization agreements brokered by the previous White House were among the few Trump foreign policy initiatives it supports and seeks to build on. There were reports earlier this year that US President Joe Biden will appoint a special envoy tasked with advancing normalization between Israel and the Arab world; however, no such announcement has been made.

Analysts speculate that while the administration may support the initiative in theory, it may be more difficult to build on it in practice as the new US government is unlikely to go as far in incentivizing potential candidates in the Arab world as former president Donald Trump did. Biden officials have raised eyebrows at Trump’s sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE along with his recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara region. Both moves were essential in getting Abu Dhabi and Rabat, respectively, to agree to normalize relations with Israel.

During his meeting with Lapid in Rabat on Wednesday, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita used the opportunity to call for a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 border.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) touches down in Rabat, Morocco, on August 11, 2021. (Foreign Ministry)

On Israel-Morocco ties, Bourita said the bilateral relationship “is not like any other.” He referenced the status of the Jewish community in the kingdom and ties between Jews in Israel and Morocco.

The two ministers signed three framework agreements that covered political consultation between the ministries; cooperation in culture, youth, and sports; and air service between the countries.

Lapid was in Morocco for the first official visit by an Israeli top diplomat since 2003 and the highest-level trip since an agreement was signed by Jerusalem and Rabat last year to reestablish ties after some two decades.

Lapid is set to officially open up the Israeli Liaison Office in Rabat on Thursday.

On Thursday, Lapid will also spend time in Casablanca with the local Jewish community and will pray in the Beth-El Synagogue there.

The trip is the fruit of a US-brokered deal for Morocco to resume ties with Israel, which were cut off in 2000 following the outbreak of the Second Intifada. Though the countries are not establishing full ties, Israeli officials have said they expect Rabat to eventually upgrade the relationship and establish embassies.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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