Pence on first leg of visit to Middle East, leaves behind government shutdown

Pence left behind the US government shutdown and readied for security and counter-terrorism talks Saturday with Egypt’s leader.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff

Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Cairo hours after the US Congress and President Donald Trump failed to reach agreement on a plan to avert a partial federal closure. Pence went ahead with his four-day trip to the Middle East, citing national security and diplomatic reasons.

Pence’s meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was expected to delve into security cooperation between the two countries and efforts to fight ISIS.

His visit to the region comes more than a month after Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a step that has enraged Palestinians.

Pence planned to travel to Jordan later Saturday and then to Israel on Sunday. He will not be meeting with Palestinians officials.

El-Sissi has built a strategic alliance with Trump and urged the American president to become more involved in the fight against Islamic terrorism in the Middle East. Trump has praised el-Sissi for the April release of Egyptian-American charity worker Aya Hijazi, who had been detained for nearly three years.

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But Trump’s designation of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital poses a dilemma for Egypt, which receives extensive military and economic aid from Washington but does not want to appear dismissive of Palestinian concerns.

White House officials said they expected the decision on the Israeli capital and Trump’s plans to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to come up in discussions between Pence and el-Sissi.

The Egyptian leader, who led the 2013 military overthrow of an Islamist president, has announced plans to run in the March election. El-Sissi is heavily favored to win a second four-year term after leading a heavy crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of opponents, including many of those behind the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

White House aides said Pence was expected to raise with el-Sissi the importance of human rights, political freedoms and freedom of expression.

VP will arrive in Israel Sunday evening

The vice-president is scheduled to arrive in Israel Sunday evening, where he will be greeted at the airport by Tourism Minister Yariv Gideon Levin. The next two days will include meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. The vice-president will address the Knesset and visit the Western Wall and Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.

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The vice president was initially scheduled to visit Egypt and Israel in December but postponed the trip so he could preside over a tax overhaul vote in the narrowly divided Senate.