Middle East

Pence arrives in Israel on visit overshadowed by Trump's Jerusalem declaration


US Vice President Mike Pence has arrived in Israel after stops in Egypt and Jordan as his Middle Eastern tour was overshadowed by the US decision on Jerusalem.

US Vice President Mike Pence has begun a visit to Israel after being praised as a "great friend" by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and shunned by the Palestinians over US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

It is the highest-level US visit to the region since President Donald Trump made his declaration on December 6 and promised to begin the process of moving the American embassy to the city, whose status is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

With the Palestinians boycotting Pence, the visit provides little obvious opportunity to build bridges towards peace.

Before arriving in Israel on Sunday, Pence held meetings with the leaders of Egypt and Jordan and US officials travelling with him said that he had sought to encourage them to pressure the Palestinians to return to peace talks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, calling Trump's declaration a "slap in the face", has rejected Washington as an honest broker in any future talks with Israel. Abbas left for an overseas visit before Pence arrived.

Pence, who flew into Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport from Jordan on a US military plane after visiting US troops on the Syrian border, was met by Israel's tourism minister, Yariv Levin.

Pence, who travelled to the Middle East despite a US government shutdown, made no statement on arrival in Israel.

Netanyahu, addressing his cabinet earlier on Sunday, described Pence as a "great friend of the State of Israel" and said they would discuss US efforts "to halt Iran's aggression, the Iranian nuclear program, and ways to advance peace and security in the region".

"Anyone who truly wants to fulfil those goals knows there is no substitute to the United States' leadership," said Netanyahu, who is due to hold talks with Pence on Monday.

In comments delivered in Egypt, his first stop on the Middle East visit, Pence said Washington would support a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians if the two sides agreed to it.

Visiting Jordan on Sunday before flying to Israel, Pence told its monarch, King Abdullah, that Washington was committed to preserving the status quo of holy sites in Jerusalem, a city sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Pointing to "challenging circumstances", the king said he hoped Washington would "reach out and find the right way to move forward". Pence told reporters he "agreed to disagree" with King Abdullah on the impact of Trump's move.

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