U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Bahrain King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa during his visit to Manama, Bahrain, Aug. 26, 2020. (Bahrain News Agency/Handout via Reuters)
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Bahrain King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa during his visit to Manama, Bahrain, Aug. 26, 2020. (Bahrain News Agency/Handout via Reuters)

WASHINGTON - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday he is hopeful the recent agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to normalize relations will help advance Middle East peace, amid what Washington says is Iran’s "malign influence.”
 
“Excited to arrive in the United Arab Emirates and congratulate the Emirati people on the historic Abraham Accords– the most significant step toward peace in the Middle East in over 25 years. Hopeful we will build on this momentum towards regional peace,” said Pompeo in a tweet, after concluding earlier meetings with Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa and Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Manama.

The top U.S. diplomat’s travel to the Middle East and Sudan followed a U.S.-brokered deal on normalizing relations between Israel and the UAE that was announced on August 13.   
 
Wednesday, a senior State Department official said the U.S. stands ready to facilitate a deal between Bahrain and Israel to reach a diplomatic normalization.   
 
“Bahrain is going to make any decision on its bilateral relations with other countries in a way that’s in the best interests of their own people,” said the U.S. official, adding Gulf countries now see “many good reasons” to “normalize with Israel” after the UAE-Israel deal that “can light the path for other countries to follow.
 
“If we can help facilitate normalization with Bahrain, we’re ready,” said the official.
 
The U.S. is eyeing deepening its security relationship with UAE, amid the Emirates’ request to purchase advanced American F-35 warplanes.  
 
“It makes perfect sense for us to be strengthening UAE’s defense capabilities at a time when they’re under new threats for agreeing to a peace with Israel,” said a senior U.S. official Tuesday, stopping short of saying whether or not such sales have been approved.   
 
Both Israel and UAE see Iran as an existential threat.  Countering this threat is seen as driving the decision for Washington and its allies to push for normalizing relations with Israel.
 
U.S. President Donald Trump said last week that Washington is considering selling advanced F-35 warplanes to the UAE over the objections of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
 
Israel's status as the only Middle Eastern country to acquire the most advanced fighter aircraft in America's arsenal currently gives it a clear technological advantage over others in the region.  But the F-35 deal is a top priority for the UAE, which saw it as linked to the normalization accord with Israel.

FILE - An F-35A Lightning II takes off from Al Dhafra Air Base, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in this picture released by the U.S. Air Force, Aug. 5, 2019.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the deal is a "betrayal" of Palestinians. The UAE-Israel deal is seen as breaking a tradition among most Arab countries not to make peace with Israel until Israel and the Palestinians make peace.
 
Pompeo is on a multi-nation trip this week amid a Trump administration push for other Arab nations to follow the UAE in normalizing ties with Israel.

He was in the East African nation of Sudan on Tuesday where, according to a statement from State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus, Pompeo and Sudanese Sovereign Council Chair General Abdel Fattah el-Burhan discussed the “continued deepening of the Israel-Sudan bilateral relationship.”

Ortagus said they also discussed “the importance of the military’s continued support for the civilian-led transitional government and Sudan’s path toward democracy.”

Pompeo began his trip Monday in Israel where he said the United States will ensure Israel’s military advantage in the Middle East under any potential U.S. arms deals with the United Arab Emirates.

“The United States has a legal requirement with respect to qualitative military edge. We will continue to honor that,” said Pompeo after his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

“But we have a 20-plus year security relationship with the United Arab Emirates as well, where we have provided them with technical assistance and military assistance,” he added.

Pompeo is also traveling to Oman to close out his trip.
 

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