Vice President Pence greets people as he walks through the Capitol’s Statuary Hall on his way to the House of Representatives for the vote on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on Dec. 19. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Vice President Pence’s office has announced new dates for his delayed trip to the Middle East: Jan. 19-23.
Pence was originally scheduled to travel the week before Christmas, but postponed the trip so he could remain in Washington in case his vote was needed to pass tax legislation. At the time, White House aides insisted the move had nothing to do with uproar in the region over the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Many U.S. allies disagreed with Trump’s decision, as no other country has its embassy in Jerusalem, under a long-standing international consensus the city’s status should be decided in a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Pence plans to leave Washington on Jan. 19 and arrive in Egypt on Jan. 20 to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. Pence will then travel to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah II on Jan. 21, a meeting that was not on his original itinerary. Pence will then spend Jan. 22 and 23 in Israel, where he will participate in a bilateral discussion with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and give a speech at the Knesset. While in Israel, Pence also plans to visit the Western Wall and Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
“At President Trump’s direction, the Vice President is traveling to the Middle East to reaffirm our commitment to work with the U.S.’s allies in the region to defeat radicalism that threatens future generations,” Pence’s press secretary Alyssa Farah said in a statement on Monday morning. “The Vice President is looking forward to meeting with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, and Israel to discuss ways to work together to fight terrorism and improve our national security.”
This trip, which has been in the works for months, was originally supposed to include meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar mosque and the pope of the Egyptian Coptic Church, who leads the largest Christian denomination in the Middle East. Pence had also planned to visit Bethlehem. After Trump announced on Dec. 6 that his administration had decided to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, breaking with decades of U.S. policy, Abbas and others canceled their meetings. At the time, Abbas’s diplomatic adviser, Majdi Khaldi, said Abbas would not meet with Pence “because the U.S. has crossed red lines” with its decision on Jerusalem. Sissi has agreed to meet with Pence, despite the deep unpopularity of Trump’s decision.
Originally, Pence had planned to focus heavily on the persecution of Christians and religious minorities during his visit. Following the Jerusalem decision, the focus of the trip sharply shifted to rebuilding relationships in the region and on the collective problem of terrorism. In particular, Pence plans to make clear that Egypt continues to be an “incredibly important” partner in the region, according to aides. Ahead of the original trip last year, a senior administration official said the Trump administration understands “the Palestinians may need a cooling-off period,” and Pence did not plan to put any pressure on them during his trip.