Foreign Minister Katz said snubbed by Pompeo at Washington confab

Citing scheduling difficulties, US secretary of state reportedly turns down meeting request — and sits down with ministers of Bahrain, Greece, Tunisia, Colombia

Interim Foreign Minister and then-transportation minister Israel Katz speaks in Jerusalem on February 27, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Interim Foreign Minister and then-transportation minister Israel Katz speaks in Jerusalem on February 27, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Israel’s foreign minister was reportedly unable to obtain a meeting with America’s top diplomat during a three-day visit to Washington last week.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz asked for the meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but was turned down, with the secretary’s office informing the Israeli embassy in Washington that Pompeo’s schedule was too full, Channel 13 reported on Saturday.

On Monday night, as he lifted off for the US to take part in a State Department conference on religious freedom, Katz himself said he planned to meet with Pompeo.

But during the nearly three days Katz spent in Washington, he and Pompeo were unable to coordinate more than a brief handshake on the sidelines of the conference.

During that time, Pompeo met with the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Greece, Tunisia and Colombia, as well as with former British prime minister Tony Blair, Channel 13 said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the Christians United for Israel’s annual summit, July 8, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

While he met with numerous lawmakers in Washington, Katz’s only meeting with a senior administration official was with Sam Brownback, the former governor of Kansas who now serves as the Trump administration’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

Responding to the report, Katz’s office said a broader working meeting between the two countries’ top diplomats was in the works.

“The foreign minister was offered two options” during last week’s trip, Katz’s office told Channel 13, “a short meeting with Pompeo on the sidelines of the conference or coordinating another visit [to Washington] that would include a more comprehensive meeting with Pompeo. Minister Katz chose the second option, which will be scheduled soon.”

The State Department said: “Unfortunately, Secretary of State Pompeo was not able to meet Foreign Minister Katz because of scheduling difficulties. Pompeo looks forward to working with Katz in the future.”

While he seemed to struggle to pin down a meeting with America’s top diplomat, Katz came away from the Washington summit with a rarer achievement: a first public photograph and meeting with his Bahraini counterpart.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz and his Bahraini counterpart Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa (R) pose for a photograph at the State Department in Washington on July 17, 2019. (Courtesy)

The photo of Katz and Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, which was posted on Twitter Thursday by US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt and later shared by Katz as well, marked the rare instance in which a top Arab official is publicly documented meeting a senior Israeli figure.

Katz said the meeting with the Bahraini minister was “another example of our growing diplomatic connections.”

“I will continue to work with [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] to advance Israel’s relations with the Gulf countries,” he said.

Katz later put out a statement, saying the meeting was organized by State Department officials and that he and Khalifa “discussed Iran, regional threats and bilateral relations, and agreed to remain in contact.”

There was no immediate comment from Khalifa, but the details came as Bahrain announced it would hold a meeting on security that will include Israeli participation, according to a diplomatic source.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, fifth from left, and Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, sixth from left, listen to White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, standing, during the opening session of the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Manama, Bahrain on June 25, 2019. (Bahrain News Agency via AP)

Like most Arab states, Bahrain does not have diplomatic ties with Israel, though there has been an opening between the two in recent years amid their shared antipathy toward Iran.

Last month, Bahrain hosted an American-led conference where US President Donald Trump’s peace team rolled out the economic aspects of its long-awaited proposal to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While no Israeli officials were there, a number of businessmen and journalists were invited to attend the workshop.

In an interview with The Times of Israel on the sidelines of the conference, Khalifa expressed the desire for better relations and eventually “peace” with Israel — a country he nonchalantly declared a part of the region and “there to stay.”

He said that he would like to visit Israel in the future — “one day, when it’s all open and peaceful” — but was noncommittal about normalizing ties with Jerusalem in the absence of a peace deal.

Khalifa, who is considered the most pro-Israel official in the Gulf, also reiterated his support for Israel’s right to defend itself, a comment he first made last year following an Israeli airstrike on Iranian targets in Syria.

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