TV report: Netanyahu held secret talks with Morocco foreign minister in New York
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TV report: Netanyahu held secret talks with Morocco foreign minister in New York

Meeting said to take place on sidelines of UN General Assembly in September; PM sought to arrange visit, normalize ties, offered help regarding Iran

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita addresses the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday, September 20, 2017, at the United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/ Frank Franklin II)
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita addresses the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday, September 20, 2017, at the United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/ Frank Franklin II)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a secret meeting with Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita in New York last September, an Israeli TV report said.

Netanyahu met with Bourita during his visit to participate in the UN General Assembly, Channel 13 news reported Sunday.

Quoting a senior Israeli official who was involved in arranging the meeting, the TV report said Netanyahu asked Bourita to advance the normalization of Israeli-Moroccan ties. He offered assistance for Morocco regarding Iran, the report said without elaborating.

Netanyahu also sought to arrange a visit to Morocco.

Asked for a response, the Prime Minister’s Office said it does “not comment on contacts with countries with which Israel does not have formal relations.” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said he was unaware of such a meeting.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets with Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 27, 2018. (Mohamad Torokman, Pool via AP)

Rumors of Israel-Morocco contacts have been swirling in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, Morocco’s communications minister declined to comment on reports in local media that Netanyahu was seeking to arrange a state visit just before Israel goes to the polls in April 9 elections.

“We do not deal in rumors,” government spokesperson Mustapha El-Khalfi said at the time.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters, September 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

French-language website Le Desk reported last month that Israel’s national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, was working, with US support, to arrange a meeting between Netanyahu and King Mohammed VI, in Morocco.

The visit would take place around March 30, right after a visit to the African country by Pope Francis, according to an Israeli Channel 12 news at the time.

According to Le Desk, Mohammed VI may see developing closer ties with Israel as an inroad with the Trump administration, as Morocco courts US support for its claims to Western Sahara, which most of the world views as an occupied territory.

King Mohammed VI of Morocco at the Moroccan Ambassador to the United States’ residence in Washington, DC, on November 20, 2013. (US State Department/File)

Also in January, a delegation of US Republican Jewish leaders visited Morocco. Included in the visit were Republican Jewish Coalition heads Norm Coleman and Matt Brooks, as well as diplomat Elliot Abrams, who was recently named as US President Donald Trump’s special envoy to Venezuela, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, and pro-Morocco lobbyist Andrew King.

Coleman tweeted a picture of the delegation with Foreign Minister Bourita.

Israel and Morocco do not have official diplomatic ties. In 2017, Mohammed VI canceled participation in a West African summit to avoid Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) greets Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah at the sidelines of a regional conference on the Middle East in Warsaw, February 13, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Netanyahu has made diplomatic outreach to Africa, Latin America, and the Far East a cornerstone of his foreign policy, and has pushed for more open ties with moderate Arab states. In October, he made a rare trip to Oman, and he met with the Omani foreign minister in Warsaw last week.

At the Warsaw summit, Netanyahu sat together with dozens of world leaders, including about a dozen Arab and Gulf ministers, in what he hailed as a taboo-breaking trip.

A street in Rabat, Morocco. (CC-BY SA Nawalbennani/Wikimedia Commons)

In January, Israeli officials indicated that Jerusalem was preparing for a “historic” visit by Mali’s Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga, likely before elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is greeted by Chadian President Deby at the presidential palace in N’Djamena, January 20, 2019. (Koby Gideon/GPO)

That came after Netanyahu cemented the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Chad during the first-ever visit of an Israeli premier to the Muslim-majority African country.

Chad severed ties with Israel in 1972, due to pressure from Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

Appearing alongside Chad’s President Idriss Déby at the N’Djamena presidential palace Netanyahu called the move “a breakthrough into the heart of the Muslim world.”

He also indicated that additional Muslim countries in Africa would soon warm up to Israel. “There will be more major news. There will be more countries,” he said, without elaborating.

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