Pompeo on eve of visit: Annexation is Israel’s decision

In interview before leaving for Israel, Secretary of State Pompeo says he will be discussing Trump peace plan, Iranian threat and coronavirus pandemic when he meets Wednesday with Netanyahu and Gantz.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that Iran, peace with the Palestinians and the coronavirus pandemic are on the agenda when he arrives in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

Pompeo is due to arrive in Israel Wednesday morning. He is the first high-ranking American official to make a foreign trip and the first foreign diplomat to visit Israel during the coronavirus pandemic. After he took office in 2018 his first trip abroad was also to Israel.

“The meeting is important enough to hold it face-to-face,” Pompeo said in an interview with Israel Hayom before taking off from Washington.

“There are a whole range of issues that I want to discuss. The continued threats from the Islamic Republic of Iran, and how we will work together to deter them and to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.

“I want to bring them [Netanyahu and Gantz] up to speed on the progress we think we are making on President Trump’s Vision for Peace… Then there is a whole range of issues, certainly COVID-19, the work that we will do with our health experts working together to try to find therapeutic drugs and vaccines to the world.”

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Pompeo echoed previous statements that the decision to apply sovereignty over settlements in Judea and Samaria rests in Israel’s hands.

“I have said in the past that this is a decision that Israel will make. I want to understand what the new government thinks about it,” he said. “In the end this is an Israeli decision. However, we will certainly discuss together how best to implement the peace vision that the prime minister agreed to.”

Pompeo said the U.S. has been in touch with neighboring Arab countries and heard their views on the proposed deal that the Palestinians have so far rejected.

“We have been in touch with all these countries, they are partners and good friends,” Pompeo said. “We know they are concerned and we have taken this into account in the vision of peace. You can see that in the document. All of these elements are part of the game. We created a plan that gives a better life to the Palestinian people, and that’s important to those Arab countries too.”

The secretary played down European opposition to the Trump plan, saying previous attempts were neither detailed nor possible to implement and the American plan was realistic.

“We think this plan meets the basic requirements of Israelis and Palestinians, it is detailed and possible to implement.”

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Pompeo admitted in a meeting with Jewish leaders last summer that the Trump peace plan may be “unexecutable” after saying earlier in the year that Israel applying sovereignty in Judea and Samaria wouldn’t hurt the plan.

There were no plans announced for Pompeo to meet with Palestinian leaders during his visit.

High on the agenda is the Iranian threat, both to the region and Iranian attempts to build nuclear weapons. Referring to a UN arms embargo that expires in October, Pompeo said:

“In October, Iranians will have the capacity to build their conventional capabilities in ways that will allow them to more easily terrorize the world and extort countries around the world, creating more space for Iranians to pursue a program that will eventually increase the risk of them having nuclear weapons.”

Pompeo said sanctions and the diplomatic isolation of Iran would be used to try and force Iran to abide by international norms. “This will continue, and we will not allow them to obtain nuclear weapons.”

On the issue of the pandemic, Pompeo said it is known that the coronavirus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan and that the Communist Party there knew about the virus in December 2019, long before a global epidemic was declared by the World Health Organization.

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“China was trying to hide it. We will make sure that the entire world knows how we got to this point. More importantly, we will ask them for transparency.”

With Israeli health regulations mandating visitors to Israel quarantine themselves for 14 days and any meetings be held wearing masks and staying tw0 meters (six feet) apart, Pompeo said health considerations will be followed.

“We will do this in a way that minimizes the risk so no one gets infected during the visit,” he said.