WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence is making his fourth visit to Israel, returning to a region he’s visited “a million times” in his heart.
An evangelical Christian with strong ties to the Holy Land, Pence this time comes packing two key policy decisions in his bags that have long been top priorities for him: designating Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and curtailing aid for Palestinians.
Pence departed as scheduled Friday evening as U.S. lawmakers sought to avert a federal government shutdown at midnight. Alyssa Farah, a Pence spokeswoman, said the trip was “integral to America’s national security and diplomatic objectives” and would go on as scheduled. Pence was set to depart Friday evening, and Air Force Two was expected to land in Ireland for a refueling stop early Saturday en route to Cairo.
During a stopover in Ireland, Pence greeted US soldiers at Shannon Airport in Ireland hours after the federal government shutdown. Pence told troops: “We’ll get this thing figured out in Washington.”
He told the soldiers to “stay focused on your mission.”
Pence told reporters that “we have soldiers that are headed down range to Kuwait for six months in a critical theater to serve the country, and yet because of Democrats in the Senate, they have anxiety about their pay.”
He said: “It’s disappointing to every American that Democrats would shut down the government at a time when we have troops in harms way.”
Since his days in Congress a decade ago, Pence has played a role in pushing both for the shift in U.S. policy related to the capital and for placing limits on funding for Palestinian causes long criticized by Israel.
Traveling to Israel just as Palestinians have condemned recent decisions by President Donald Trump’s administration, Pence will arrive in the region as a longtime stalwart supporter of Israel who has questioned the notion of the U.S. serving as an “honest broker” in the stalled peace process.
“The United States certainly wants to be honest, but we don’t want to be a broker,” Pence once told the Christian Broadcasting Network in 2010. “A broker doesn’t take sides. A broker negotiates between parties of equals.”
The vice president will hold four days of meetings in Egypt, Jordan and Israel during his visit, the first to the region by a senior administration official since Trump announced plans in December to designate Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and begin the process of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv, angering Palestinian leaders.
His trip will also follow Tuesday’s announcement that the U.S. is withholding $65 million of a planned $125 million funding installment to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which provides health care, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Both decisions have come as Trump has expressed frustration over a lack of progress in restarting peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, who withdrew plans to meet with Pence during his visit to the Middle East.
Senior White House officials said security issues, countering terrorism and efforts to push back against Iran would figure prominently during Pence’s trip, which concludes on Tuesday. But the vice president also is expected to face questions about Israel’s future.
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