DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will hold closed-door meetings Wednesday with Bahrain’s royal family and top officials in the United Arab Emirates amid the Trump administration’s push for Arab nations to recognize Israel.
Pompeo already traveled to Israel and Sudan on his trip through the Middle East, and meet Bahrain’s foreign minister on his arrival in the country on Tuesday.
In Manama Wednesday, Pompeo is expected to meet with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and his son, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
The State Department has not offered any word on what Pompeo will bring up during the meeting, though it comes after a US-brokered deal announced August 13 saw the United Arab Emirates and Israel open diplomatic relations.
Bahrain, a small island nation just off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, has a historic Jewish community. The kingdom has slowly encouraged ties to Israel, with two US-based rabbis in 2017 saying King Hamad himself promoted the idea of ending the boycott of Israel by Arab nations. That boycott had been in place to offer Palestinians support in their efforts to form an independent state.
Bahrain is also home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet and remains a close security partner of the US. Pompeo arrived there Tuesday night and met Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, wearing an American-flag-colored face mask amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Later on Wednesday, Pompeo is expected in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the seven-sheikdom federation of the UAE. There, he will speak with his Emirati counterpart and others.
Pompeo has said he is hopeful other nations will follow the UAE in normalizing ties with Israel, despite criticism of the deal from some parts of the Arab world.
Sudan on Tuesday also dashed US hopes for a speedy breakthrough, saying its transitional government, which replaced ousted strongman Omar al-Bashir last year and is set to rule until elections in 2022, has “no mandate” to take such a weighty step.
Manama, whose contacts with Israel date back to the 1990s, was the first Gulf country to welcome the UAE move and is considered a front-runner to follow in its footsteps.
Like most Gulf countries, Bahrain shares with the Jewish state a common enemy in Iran, which Manama accuses of instigating protests by the nation’s Shiite Muslim community against the ruling Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty.
Bahrain — a close ally of regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia — is seen as unlikely to establish official relations with Israel without Riyadh’s blessing, but it could play an important intermediary role.
“While Saudi Arabia cannot directly normalize relations amid a stalemate in the peace process, Bahrain could become a hub for Saudi-Israeli exchange,” Andreas Krieg of King’s College London told AFP.
Saudi Arabia, while not condemning the UAE-Israel deal, has refused to normalize ties until Israel signs an internationally recognized peace accord with the Palestinians.
Not only would a formal recognition of Israel be seen by Palestinians and their supporters as a betrayal of their cause, it could also hurt the kingdom’s image as the leader of the Islamic world.
The Palestinian leadership has derided the UAE’s move as a “stab in the back.”
On Tuesday, the US chief diplomat spoke by phone with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, who is seen as the driving force behind the Israel agreement.
The two discussed the historic deal “and the prospects for strengthening it in a way that serves the foundations of peace and stability in the region,” the official Emirati news agency WAM said.
Pompeo’s trip has included him offering a recorded message in Jerusalem supporting US President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign for the Republican National Convention. That speech cast aside his own advice to American diplomats to be apolitical and bulldozed a long tradition of non-partisanship by previous secretaries of state.