Ukraine to feature heavily in Blinken travel to Middle East, North Africa

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to the Middle East and North Africa starting on Saturday in a trip that will be heavily dominated by discussion of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Blinken is set to visit Israel, the West Bank, Morocco, and Algeria from Saturday to Wednesday, the State Department announced on Thursday, in a trip that will focus on Iran and the conflict in Ukraine.

“Both of those are going to be really at the top of the agenda,” top U.S. diplomat for Near Eastern affairs Yael Lempert told reporters.

Russian forces invaded Ukraine a month ago in the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two. Moscow calls the assault a “special operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbor.

Lempert said that Blinken will discuss Israel’s role as mediator between Russia and Ukraine during his visit over the weekend.

“We appreciate Israel’s role,” Lempert said. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been trying to mediate an end to the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

She warned that the conflict will only continue to increase the price of basic staples in the Middle East and North Africa region as wheat prices rise.

Lempert said that while in Morocco, Blinken will also meet with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during which the two will discuss a range of issues including Iran, Yemen, Syria, global energy markets and Ethiopia.

The Abraham accords, a U.S.-sponsored drive to improve relations between Israel and a range of Arab countries, will also be on the agenda, Lempert said.

“It’s an opportune moment for this meeting. There’s a lot to discuss,” she said.