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Lapid set for first meetings with top US, Bahraini diplomats in Rome

Sit-down with Antony Blinken likely to focus on Iran and Palestinians; meeting with Manama’s Zayani comes ahead of Lapid’s Tuesday trip to UAE to inaugurate embassy

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and then-Opposition chairman Yair Lapid in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021. (Yair Lapid/Twitter)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and then-Opposition chairman Yair Lapid in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021. (Yair Lapid/Twitter)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will hold his first meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Rome on Sunday, and then meet with Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, marking the first meeting between the new Israeli government and a cabinet minister from the Gulf countries.

Lapid will fly to Rome on Sunday for the meetings. Blinken is in Italy as part of a diplomatic trip to Europe, a US official said.

The meeting with Zayani comes ahead of Lapid’s Tuesday trip to the Gulf region, where he will attend the inauguration of the new Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi and consulate in Dubai.

Israel, the Emirates and Bahrain signed a formal peace and normalization agreement between them last year. Lapid’s trip will be the first for a senior Israeli minister to the Gulf in the wake of that agreement.

The Blinken meeting follows two phone calls the top diplomats held earlier this month as Washington intensified its contacts with the new government in Israel, which was sworn in on June 13. In the first call, Blinken congratulated Lapid on forming a coalition headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

The second call was more substantive, with the two discussing “the opportunities and ongoing challenges for Israel and the region,” according to the State Department.

“The Secretary discussed the US commitment to Israel’s security, the importance of the US-Israel bilateral relationship, and the need to improve Israeli-Palestinian relations in practical ways,” the statement said then.

According to a statement from Israel’s Foreign Ministry, “the two talked at length about a wide range of strategic issues including the security and political situation in the region.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. (AP/Collage)

Both statements said the two also discussed Iran and ways to further Israel’s normalization with Arab states.

Blinken and Lapid agreed to a policy of “no surprises,” according to the Israeli statement, and will maintain open and regular communication channels, as well as plans to meet soon. Opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu pounced on reports of the call, claiming an Israeli commitment to keep the US in the loop regarding military actions it takes against Iran’s nuclear program would endanger the security of the Jewish state.

Like the previous government, the new one led by Bennett and Lapid is opposed to the Biden administration’s effort to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action JCPOA. However, Lapid — and reportedly Bennett as well — have stressed that whatever their disagreements with the US, they plan to address them behind closed doors, rather than seeking public skirmishes the way Netanyahu had during the Obama administration.

Lapid met Blinken for the first time last month when the secretary of state was in Jerusalem as part of the US effort to strengthen the recently brokered ceasefire that ended an 11-day war between Israel and terror groups in Gaza.

Lapid’s trip to the United Arab Emirates to inaugurate the Israeli diplomatic missions to the country will last two days, from June 29-30.

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