White House Says Bahrain Answered A Call To Normalize Ties With Israel The Trump administration says the small Arab state of Bahrain has answered its call to open formal relations with Israel. It comes as the White House has sought bigger regional players for such deals.

White House Says Bahrain Answered A Call To Normalize Ties With Israel

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The White House says it has another Arab official coming to Washington next week to sign an agreement normalizing ties with Israel - the foreign minister of the tiny Gulf state of Bahrain. NPR's Michele Kelemen has the story.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: With his son-in-law and other top aides standing around him in the Oval Office, President Trump announced what he called an historic phone call between Israel's prime minister and the king of Bahrain.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Bahrain will fully normalize its diplomatic relations with Israel. They will exchange embassies and ambassadors, begin direct flights between their countries.

KELEMEN: The United Arab Emirates is taking similar steps, and now officials from both countries will join an Israeli delegation at the White House on Tuesday.


TRUMP: I am very hopeful that there will be more to follow. I can tell you there's tremendous enthusiasm on behalf of other countries to also join.

KELEMEN: Trump says he spoke by phone with Saudi Arabia's king. The tiny Gulf state of Bahrain is dependent on the Saudis, as Tamara Wittes of the Brookings Institution points out.

TAMARA WITTES: So it's possible that one spur for Bahrain's decision was a desire by Saudi Arabia to respond to the pressure they are facing from Washington to normalize with Israel and to basically push the Bahrainis in front and say, you guys go ahead.

KELEMEN: Bahrain had already hosted an economic conference that was part of the Trump administration's Middle East peace plan. Palestinians have refused to engage with this effort since the White House has taken a series of pro-Israel moves. Now the administration has shifted the focus to get more countries to recognize Israel before making peace with Israelis and Palestinians.

The administration could be looking to do something else while those Gulf officials are in town next week. The U.S. is also hosting separate talks with Qatar. And as former ambassador to the UAE Barbara Leaf says, this could be a chance to heal the rift among those Gulf partners.

BARBARA LEAF: This rift has had continuing impact on the ability to do multilateral defense efforts between the U.S. and among the Gulf countries. And for this administration, it simply is a huge distraction from a continuing effort to put concerted pressure of various kinds on Iran.

KELEMEN: And countering Iran has been the administration's overarching goal in the region.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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