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Pompeo in Bahrain on next leg of Mideast charm offensive

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani on his arrival in the capital Manama late Tuesday
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani on his arrival in the capital Manama late Tuesday - BNA (Bahrain News Agency)/AFP
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Manama (AFP)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Bahrain's crown prince Tuesday on a Middle East trip aimed at building more ties between Israel and the Arab world after a landmark US-brokered deal with the UAE.

Pompeo said in a tweet that he discussed the "importance of building regional peace and stability" and "countering Iran's malign influence" with Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, on the third leg of the tour that has already taken in Israel and Sudan.

The US chief diplomat has said he is hopeful other nations will follow the United Arab Emirates, which earlier this month became only the third Arab country to agree to normalise relations with the Jewish state.

However, Sudan's transitional government on Tuesday dashed hopes for a speedy breakthrough, saying it has "no mandate" to take such a weighty step.

Manama, whose contacts with Israel date back to the 1990s, was the first Gulf country to welcome the UAE move and is considered a front-runner to follow in its footsteps.

Like most Gulf countries, Bahrain shares with the Jewish state a common enemy in Iran, which Manama accuses of instigating protests by the nation's Shiite Muslim community against the ruling Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty.

But the Israel rapprochement was met with criticism from some parts of the Arab world, and Bahrain -- a close ally of regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia -- is unlikely to establish relations without Riyadh's blessing

- Eyes on Saudi -

Saudi Arabia, while not condemning the UAE-Israel deal, has refused to normalise ties until Israel signs an internationally recognised peace accord with the Palestinians.

Not only would a formal recognition of Israel be seen by Palestinians and their supporters as a betrayal of their cause, it could also hurt the kingdom's image as the leader of the Islamic world.

Analysts said that even if Pompeo fails to sign up Bahrain during the visit, the island nation could play an important intermediary role in regional diplomacy.

"While Saudi Arabia cannot directly normalise relations amid a stalemate in the peace process, Bahrain could become a hub for Saudi-Israeli exchange," Andreas Krieg of King's College London told AFP.

Later Wednesday Pompeo will head to the UAE for talks with Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

On Tuesday, he spoke by phone with Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, who is seen as the driving force behind the Israel agreement.

The two discussed the historic deal "and the prospects for strengthening it in a way that serves the foundations of peace and stability in the region", the official Emirati news agency WAM said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied reports that the UAE deal hinges on the sale of US F-35 stealth fighter-jets to the Emirates, saying he opposes a move that could reduce Israel's strategic edge in the region.

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