Mnuchin to lead US delegation to Israel, Bahrain, UAE

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will lead a US delegation traveling to Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates on 17-20 October, the Treasury Department said in a statement on Friday.

The trip will “support expanded economic cooperation under the Abraham Accords signed by the three countries last month,” the Treasury statement said.

The group will first visit the Bahraini capital of Manama, then proceed to Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, before returning to Israel. Avi Berkowitz, the US administration’s envoy to the Middle East, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, will also join the trip, along with other US Treasury and embassy officials.

In the meantime, the Israeli delegation heading to Manama is set to make history by taking the first-ever commercial nonstop flight from Israel to the Gulf kingdom. Ben Gurion Airport departure listings show El Al Flight 973, the same number as Bahrain’s international telephone code, Reuters reported.

And the return flight will be the first direct commercial flight between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi.

The visit comes one month after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed agreements to establish formal ties with Israel, becoming the first Arab states to do so in a quarter-century, in deals that were denounced by Palestinian leaders.  And on Thursday, the Knesset approved Israel’s normalisation deal with the UAE with an overwhelming majority, all but ensuring that it will be ratified in the near future. 

Now approved by the Knesset, the so-called Abraham Accords will return to the desks of ministers, who will vote on them once more. Once ratified, the agreement enters into force for Israel, but full diplomatic relations between the two countries will not be established until the UAE ratifies the agreement as well.

Emirati officials have started the process of approving and ratifying the agreement, which was signed by the two parties in Washington on September 15, but it is unclear when it will conclude.

Once both parties have ratified the agreement, the treaty will be transmitted to the secretary-general of the United Nations for registration in the UN Treaty Series, a massive compendium of international treaties.

However, Manama is slowing the pace of proceedings toward the signing of a full-fledged peace deal, the Walla news site reported Friday, with the kingdom preferring to sign “a joint communique on establishing peaceful and diplomatic relations,” stopping short of the full normalisation agreement signed between Israel and the UAE. According to the Walla report, also published on the US Axios news site, the Bahrainis want to move forward more cautiously than the UAE due to some domestic opposition to the move.

Nevertheless, the communique was still considered to be progress and expands on the initial declaration signed in Washington.

In addition to the already agreed establishment of full diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies, the communique will see both sides commit to not engage in any hostile actions against one another and act to prevent such actions on their territories by third parties.

It will also highlight the areas of intended cooperation: investment, civil aviation, tourism, trade, science and technology, the environment, communications, health, agriculture, water, energy and legal affairs.

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