Pompeo urges Palestinians to present 'counter-offer'

AFP , Wednesday 29 Jan 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pauses as he meets with Benin President Patrice Talon at the State Department. in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020 AP

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday urged Palestinians who rejected President Donald Trump's Middle East peace plan to come up with a "counter-offer" that could win Israeli support, as he headed to Britain on a five-nation tour.

Pompeo was on his way to London to help forge to a post-Brexit alliance with Prime Minister Boris Johnson -- a leader Trump once called the UK version of himself.

His tour also includes talks in Kiev on Friday that are likely to touch on many of the controversies surrounding the Ukraine-linked impeachment trial of the mercurial White House chief.

Pompeo found himself on the immediate defensive over a delayed Middle East initiative that was pronounced dead on arrival by the Palestinians but embraced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian leaders were "free to come up with a counter offer if that's what they think is appropriate", Pompeo told reporters travelling with him.

"I know the Israelis would be prepared to sit down and negotiate on the basis of the vision that the president laid out."

Trump's proposals reportedly included no Palestinian input and grants Israel much of what it has sought in decades of international diplomacy.

Pompeo said the misgivings were coming from "the same critics who have failed for 70 years".

- Damage limitation -

Johnson was one of the first to voice support for Trump's proposals on Tuesday and said in his defence that "no peace plan is perfect but this (one) has the merit of a two-state solution".

The Conservative prime minister will be eager to present a united front as he looks for a US trade deal that can fill the void of the UK's withdrawal from the European Union on Friday.

Yet Pompeo's dinner Wednesday with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and meeting Thursday with Johnson threaten to become a damage limitation exercise for the so-called "special relationship".

Pompeo had been doing his best to convince Johnson that allowing China's Huawei tech giant to roll out Britain's next-generation 5G network introduced a long-term security threat.

US officials said the possibility of China using its commercial presence to spy on Britain -- or even shut down the network -- could force Washington to stop sharing intelligence with London.

Britain approved a limited but still important role for Huawei on Tuesday.

"We'll evaluate what the United Kingdom did," Pompeo said Wednesday.

"But our view is we should have Western systems with Western rules and American information should only pass across a trusted network. We'll make sure we do that."

Johnson told parliament his government will "do absolutely nothing to imperil our relationship with the US".

Some security analysts said Britain's decision to exclude Huawei from "core" parts of the network and cap its share of the market to 35 percent may have given enough reasons to brush past the dispute.

"Essentially what they've done is limit Huawei from large parts of the network," said the Royal United Services Institute think-tank's cyber research chief James Sullivan.

The EU announced a similar plan Wednesday.

- 'Enormous trade' -

But the list of disagreements between the historic allies appears to be getting longer -- just as expectations grow of them becoming closer now that Britain is leaving the EU.

Johnson has been publically pushing Washington to send back the wife of a US diplomat who is using the cover of diplomatic immunity to avoid prosecution over the death of a teenager in a road accident in England.

The United States rejected Anne Sacoolas's extradition to Britain last week.

Contrasting approaches to Iran and a US prosecutor's complaint that Prince Andrew was stonewalling an FBI investigation into the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein only add to layers of tensions.

Johnson might now simply be hoping "there are no precipitous statements from the US saying that's it, this love affair is at an end", said Ian Bond of London's Centre for European Reform.

Yet the sides also have the political incentive to quickly agree on the outlines of a new trade agreement whose negotiation can begin once Brexit takes effect on Friday at 2300 GMT.

Pompeo said London and Washington had "enormous trade issues and big commercial issues" to discuss.

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