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Shifting Mideast an ‘opportunity’ for Israel, top US official says

H.R. McMaster tells American Jewish Committee confab that regional interests can lead to new peace push, but avoids specifics

US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster addresses the American Jewish Committee's 2017 Global Forum at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C. on June 4, 2017. (screen capture)
US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster addresses the American Jewish Committee's 2017 Global Forum at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C. on June 4, 2017. (screen capture)

WASHINGTON — A changing dynamic in the Middle East is fostering an environment for Israel to have better ties with its Arab neighbors and revive the peace process with the Palestinians, a top White House official told Jewish officials Sunday, affirming a theme that marked much of US President Donald Trump’s trip to the region last month.

US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster did not address how the administration planned to move forward with its attempts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, but told a crowd gathered at the American Jewish Committee’s 2017 Global Forum that joint interests in the region created an “opportunity,” of which Israel had shown itself adept at taking advantage.

“Today, we are witnessing a reassessment of regional relationships, most notably between Israel and a number of our Arab partners, all friends of America, but too often adversaries of each other, ” he said. “Today, their interests are converging. This is an opportunity.”

McMaster spent considerable time recounting Trump’s trip two weeks ago to the Middle East, which included stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank.

Reports have indicated the trip was intended to lay the groundwork for a fresh peace push, though during the visit, Trump was vague on details, mostly issuing non-specific paeans to peace.

McMaster said Iran’s activities had realigned the interests of multiple countries in the region — referring to moderate Sunni Arab states, most notably Saudi Arabia — which which Israel has sought to forge partnerships over a shared distrust of Tehran. He did not bring up the Iran nuclear deal.

“Over the last 40 years, Iran has shifted its tactics and operational approach, acting through its terrorist proxy network, building up its ballistic missile capability, taking provocative actions in the Gulf and beyond, and working to keep its Arab neighbors perpetually weak and engaged in sectarian conflict,” he said.

US President Donald Trump, right, listens as Army Lt. Gen. HR McMaster talks at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Floride, February 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
US President Donald Trump, right, listens as Army Lt. Gen. HR McMaster talks at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Floride, February 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

“In this challenging environment, Israel has adapted and performed amazingly well, in part because the country has consistently recognized and acted on opportunities when others might have only seen difficulties,” he said.

The ensuing partnerships forming to counter the Iranian axis, McMaster asserted, constituted a new opportunity and one that could lead to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, which Trump has said he is committed to brokering.

“The opportunities associated with new partnerships include the renewed pursuit of enduring peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” McMaster said.

McMaster, a lieutenant general in the US Army, told the audience at the Washington Hilton that the administration will expect definitive actions taken from its regional allies against terror and extremism, but offered few details.

“None of us, least of all the president, will be impressed by mere words,” McMaster said. “We expect to see action and we will hold one another accountable as we strengthen our existing partnerships and forge new ones.”

“We will encourage and reward success, and we will deal with inaction and lack of progress accordingly, as well,” he added.

US President Donald Trump delivers a speech during a visit to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on May 23, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Menahem KAHANA)
US President Donald Trump delivers a speech during a visit to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on May 23, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Menahem KAHANA)

McMaster did not mention Trump’s delaying last week his campaign pledge to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel’s capital.

On Thursday, the president signed a waiver that defers a Congressional mandate to relocate the embassy. The 1995 law provides the US president with the prerogative to postpone the move on national security grounds.

The White House said that Trump signed the waiver because he wanted to “maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal,” something he’s been pursuing since assuming office.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer further tried to send assurances that that an embassy move was not ruled out but merely postponed. “The question is not if that move happens, but only when,” he said.

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