Pompeo to discuss coronavirus, Iran with Netanyahu and Gantz

Pompeo’s visit comes on the heels of the signature of a coalition agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
WASHINGTON - WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is slated to visit Israel on Wednesday, the State Department officially announced on Friday.
Pompeo will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz. The brief visit will take place on the same day on which Netanyahu and Gantz’s new government is expected to be be sworn-in.
They plan to discuss US and Israeli efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, “as well as regional security issues related to Iran’s malign influence,” Morgan Ortagus, the Department’s spokesperson, said in a statement.
“The United States and Israel will face threats to the security and prosperity of our peoples together,” she added. “In challenging times, we stand by our friends, and our friends stand by us.”
“The Secretary is making this trip because he recognizes the United States and Israel have much to learn from each other as we address current threats, whether those threats stem from a global pandemic or from Iran’s malign regional influence,” said Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker in a press briefing on Friday. 
Schenker declined to comment on the chances of Israel annexing parts of the West Bank in the coming months other than to point out that a joint US-Israel border mapping committee has not completed its work.
He also said the date for Pompeo’s trip was set before it was known to be the day the new Israeli government would be sworn in.
Pompeo’s visit comes on the heels of the signature of a coalition agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz. The agreement set July 1 as the earliest date on which the government could start promoting a move to annex parts of the West Bank. The Secretary of State said in a press briefing on April 22 that it would be up to Israel to decide if to promote such a move.
“As for the annexation of the West Bank, the Israelis will ultimately make those decisions,” Pompeo told reporters. “That’s an Israeli decision. And we will work closely with them to share with them our views of this in a private setting.”
Pompeo’ visit will be the first since Israel closed its borders to foreigners in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Israel currently demands any person who enters the country to go through 14 days of mandatory quarantine. However, close coordination between Israel and the US would allow the visit to proceed without a need for quarantine.
"We’ve been able to develop a regimen of risk mitigation steps that we feel…creates a safe environment for both the Secretary and the traveling party through close coordination with the embassy in Jerusalem as well as our Israeli counterparts,” Dr. William Walters, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Operations at the Bureau of Medical Services, said in a press briefing on Friday.
“People show up well in advance during coronavirus. That will include days beforehand or a day or two beforehand undergoing COVID testing to make sure that those that are getting on the aircraft are safe,” he noted. “That’s what the Secretary has directed. The Secretary’s physician will be on hand at all times, will screen individuals onto the plane. Masks will be used in accordance with CDC recommendations.”
“Every person that comes in contact or near contact with the Secretary or with the traveling party will have been screened ahead of time to – for symptoms, and no unknown cases or unknown individuals will be allowed inside what we would call a bubble of six feet or more. The interactions will be obviously brief and professional, and then the Secretary will head back to the plane and come back to the United States,” he added.
“This is a tightly controlled movement in a highly screened environment that we feel is very, very safe,” he continued. “Obviously the Secretary, just by the nature of his duties, is – comes in contact with people from all over the world on a daily basis, and so as part of that and in accordance with CDC recommendations for safety practices for critical infrastructure workers, he’s monitored on a daily basis by his physician and has access to the medical team on a 24-hour basis.”
He noted that given that the entire trip, “is highly choreographed,” it would not include any type of quarantine. “The Secretary and his traveling party arrives, engages in a very predictable manner, goes back to the aircraft and departs. So the nature of an exemption I can’t speak to, only that this is choreographed and a quarantine isn’t part of it.”
Also Friday, Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin, wishing him a happy VE Day. Putin sent wished veterans of the Red Army living in Israel good health.
The Kremlin readout of the conversation says Netanyahu "noted the decisive contribution of the Red Army to the cause of the liberation of Europe and the defeat of Nazism."
The two discussed recent developments in the region and the situation in Syria, as well as how their countries are responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The Kremlin said the countries plan to work together on research and vaccine development.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.