US Vice President Pence to visit Israel in December
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US Vice President Pence to visit Israel in December

White House says Mike Pence, set to arrive during Hanukkah, will discuss prospects for a peace deal in separate meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas

US Vice President Mike Pence arrives at the Muniz National Guard Air Base, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
US Vice President Mike Pence arrives at the Muniz National Guard Air Base, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

DALLAS — US Vice President Mike Pence announced Wednesday that he will travel to Israel and Egypt in late December at President Donald Trump’s request.

Pence made the announcement in Washington in keynote remarks at In Defense of Christians’ annual solidarity dinner for Christians in the Middle East.

He said he’ll deliver a message during the trip that now is the time to “end the persecution of Christians and all religious minorities.”

The vice president will visit Israel during Hanukkah. He’ll discuss the prospects for a Middle East peace agreement in separate meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to the White House.

Pence is also expected to address US policy toward Iran and highlight Israel’s space program.

Pence will also meet with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and highlight US-Egypt cooperation on security issues. Pence also plans meetings with government and religious leaders to discuss combating the persecution of religious minorities – including Christians – in the broader Middle East.

On Sunday it was reported that the Trump administration would shortly unveil a formal proposal for Middle East peace that aims to enable a “comprehensive regional arrangement,” but that will not be imposed on the sides, and that will not feature a rigid timetable. An administration official told The Times of Israel, however, that there were no imminent plans to present a proposal.

Such an approach would apparently represent a departure from previous US peace efforts, which focused primarily on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with US Indiana Governor Mike Pence in Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem on December 29, 2014. (screen capture: Facebook/The Prime Minister of Israel/GPO)

Administration officials have in the past made plain that a proposal will be put forward at some point in the near future, and that the administration will discuss its specifics at that time.

Pence, who has long been close to the pro-Israel community, has said several times that Trump would place Israel’s safety and security as a priority in any peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

He has also repeatedly said that the US president would fulfill a campaign promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

“I promise you that the day will come when President Donald Trump moves the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It is not a question of if, it is only when,” he told Christian supporters of Israel at the annual the annual CUFI conference in July.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and US President Donald Trump shake hands at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Trump, who himself visited Israel in May, renewed a waiver in June on a law passed in 1995 mandating the move, as all of his predecessors have done, and has backed away from the pledge.

On Thursday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is stopping in Israel during a Middle East tour focused on combating terrorism.

Mnuchin, who is Jewish, is in the region to coordinate sanctions on backers of terrorist groups. He met in Riyadh on Wednesday with Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, and other top Saudi officials.

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