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VP Pence to travel to Middle East next week

2 min

Washington (AFP)

US Vice President Mike Pence will leave next week on a high-stakes trip to Egypt, Jordan and Israel, a US official said Monday, moving ahead with a Middle East tour delayed amid anger over Washington's policy shift on Jerusalem.

Initially set for late December, the trip was pushed back as the region reeled from deadly protests triggered by President Donald Trump's controversial decision to declare the Holy City as Israel's capital -- in a break with decades of US policy.

Pence will arrive in Cairo on January 20 for a meeting with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, heading the following day to Amman for a one-on-one with King Abdullah II.

His trip will conclude on January 22-23 with a two-day visit to Israel, where he will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, deliver a speech to the Knesset, visit the Western Wall and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

Israel occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967 and later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognized by the international community.

The city's status is among the most contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its united capital, while the Palestinians see the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

Trump's controversial decision sparked protests in Arab and Muslim countries and was rejected in a non-binding UN General Assembly resolution.

Tensions ratcheted up a notch this month after Trump threatened to cut hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinians -- whose leaders responded by saying they will not be "blackmailed" and that Jerusalem "is not for sale."

Trump came to office boasting that he could achieve the "ultimate deal" that secures peace in the Middle East, something that has eluded US presidents for decades.

But efforts to harness improved Arab-Israel relations to push a peace deal have been at least temporarily derailed by Trump's Jerusalem recognition, with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas warning last month he would "no longer accept" any peace plan proposed by the United States.

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