SDE BOKER, Israel: Israeli and Arab partners convened for a rare summit in Israel on Sunday attended by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who sought to reassure the US allies over Washington’s diplomacy with Iran.
The issue is likely to dominate the two-day gathering, which includes foreign ministers from three Arab states that normalized ties with Israel in 2020.
Blinken’s visit comes as some US allies in the region question President Joe Biden administration’s commitment and brace for fallout from an Iranian nuclear deal and the Ukrainian crisis.
The nuclear talks had been close to an agreement several weeks ago until Russia made last-minute demands of the United States, insisting that sanctions imposed on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine should not affect its trade with Iran.
Restoring a 2015 nuclear deal “is the best way to put Iran’s nuclear program back in to the box it was in,” Blinken said.
But whether or not that happens, “our commitment to the core principle of Iran never acquiring a nuclear weapon is unwavering,” he said alongside Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid in Jerusalem, before the summit got under way.
“The United States will continue to stand up to Iran when it threatens us or when it threatens our allies and partners,” Blinken said.
After talks with Blinken, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has cautioned that a nuclear deal with Iran would not be binding on Israel, said he hoped Washington “will hear the concerned voices from the region, Israel’s and others’.”
Attending the Lapid-hosted summit in a desert hotel will be the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, which were part of the so-called Abraham Accords brokered by the Trump administration to normalize ties with Israel.
Egypt’s foreign minister, whose country on Saturday marked 43 years of peace with Israel, will also join the summit.
“Normalization is becoming the new normal in the region,” Blinken said, adding that Washington hoped “to bring others in.”
But violence flared inside Israel, where two suspected Arab gunmen killed two people in the city of Hadera, 50 km (30 miles) north of Tel Aviv, before they were shot dead, police said.
Before traveling to the summit venue, Blinken held talks in the occupied West Bank with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Blinken said Washington remained committed to a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but noted “the two sides are very far apart.”
The venue for the foreign ministers’ meeting is Sde Boker, where Israel’s founding father and first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, retired and is buried. The remote Negev desert farm collective has long been a symbol of Israeli innovation.
Sde Boker may also have provided an uncontroversial alternative to Jerusalem, which Israel considers its capital — a status not recognized by most countries in the absence of a resolution to Palestinian claims on the city.