Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had hoped to join US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his visit to Morocco earlier this week, but King Mohammed VI vetoed the idea, Channel 12 reported Friday.
Ahead of Pompeo’s trip to Morocco, Israeli television reported that Jerusalem was hoping for a breakthrough in normalizing ties with Rabat in the coming days.
Netanyahu, who met with Pompeo Wednesday in Portugal, was hoping to score a “real diplomatic accomplishment” to bolster his political chances before the Knesset’s December 11 deadline to tap a lawmaker to form a government, according to Channel 12 news.
But when Pompeo proposed the idea to the Moroccans, they completely refused and even declined to discuss the issue of normalization, the report said, quoting Moroccan sources.
Pompeo had also been due to have an audience with the Moroccan king but the meeting was dropped, apparently after the top US diplomat extended his visit to Lisbon to see Netanyahu.
Netanyahu’s office called the report “lies.”
Earlier, US officials confirmed that the expected normalization talks between Pompeo and the king did not happen.
“It wasn’t a topic of discussion,” a senior State Department official said in a briefing to reporters.
“It struck me as just another Israeli leak to the press of their own issue. But it was coincident with our trip, but it wasn’t on our agenda,” the US official said.
Israel and Morocco do not have official diplomatic ties. In 2017, King Mohammed VI canceled participation in a West African summit to avoid meeting Netanyahu.
Morocco has unofficially welcomed Israeli investors and tourists. Some 3,000 Jews live in Morocco, a fraction of the number from before the 1948 creation of Israel, but still the largest community in the Arab world.
Morocco is one of several Arab states in the Middle East being pushed by the US to sign non-belligerence agreements with Israel, as a step toward normalizing relations with the Jewish state, according to a Tuesday report by Axios.
While in Morocco, Pompeo discussed efforts to isolate Iran, officials said.
But Pompeo, the highest-ranking US official to travel to Morocco since President Donald Trump’s election, said he saw progress on his half-day visit.
“We have a great relationship between our two countries,” Pompeo said. “We make our people safer in each of our two countries.”
Pompeo met his Moroccan counterpart Nasser Bourita to discuss the “threat” posed by Iran’s attempts to “broaden its regional influence,” as well as the conflicts in Libya and unrest across the Sahel region, Bourita said in a statement.
Both Morocco and the United States have had tense relations with Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution toppled the pro-Western shah, who was close to the palace in Rabat.
The kingdom severed relations last year after accusing Iran of sending arms to secessionists in Moroccan-administered Western Sahara via its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, charges denied by Tehran.
“This is one of the few meetings where we don’t bring up Iran first,” a State Department official told reporters on Pompeo’s plane as he returned to Washington.
“They are the first ones to bring up their concern about the financing of terrorism, the presence — or the influence — of Hezbollah and of Iran in the region,” the official said, calling Morocco “certainly quite hawkish.”