US Vice-President Mike Pence's Middle East trip to go ahead: Aides

US Vice-President Mike Pence is to travel to Cairo and Jerusalem from Dec 19, 2017, amid demonstrations and diplomatic tensions over the dramatic shift in US policy.
US Vice-President Mike Pence is to travel to Cairo and Jerusalem from Dec 19, 2017, amid demonstrations and diplomatic tensions over the dramatic shift in US policy.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Vice-President Mike Pence will visit Egypt and Israel next week, despite controversy and meeting cancellations as a result of the administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Aides said Pence is to travel to Cairo and Jerusalem from Tuesday (Dec 19), amid demonstrations and diplomatic tensions over the dramatic shift in US policy.

President Donald Trump’s administration invited almost universal condemnation earlier this month when it officially recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, effectively ignoring Palestinian claims on the city.

The city’s status had been seen as a central element of any eventual peace deal.

Palestinian leaders have said Pence is not welcome and have publicly rebuffed requests for a meeting.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas cancelled a planned sit-down with Pence in Ramallah and warned that the United States no longer had a role to play in the peace process.

A top official in Pence’s office accused Palestinians of “walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region.”

“The President has asked Vice-President Pence to go to the region to reaffirm our commitment to work with partners throughout the Middle East to defeat radicalism that threatens the hopes and dreams of future generations,” Jarrod Agen, Pence’s deputy chief of staff, said in a statement.

Pence’s trip had also been set to focus on the role of religious leaders in the Middle East, but that plan has also faltered.

Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros II also cancelled a meeting with Pence, saying Trump’s announcement had failed to take into account the “feelings of millions” of Arabs.

A leading Egyptian Grand Imam issued a “categorical rejection” of Pence’s request for a meeting.

Any plans that Pence – who is deeply religious – may have had to make a pilgrimage to Bethlehem also appear to have been thwarted.

The US vice-president will however address Israel’s Knesset and meet the Israeli and Egyptian leaders Benjamin Netanyahu and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during the five-day trip.

The curtailed schedule means that Pence will be in Washington as the Trump administration pushes contentious legislation to overhaul the US tax code. Pence could be called upon to break a tie in the Senate, if a vote on the Bill takes places before his departure.