January 22, 2018
While D.C. ground to a halt, the White House's work in the Middle East was full-steam ahead. Vice President Mike Pence spent the weekend meeting with Jordanian and Egyptian leaders, underscoring America's foreign policy priorities and building on shared concerns.
As part of his diplomatic mission, Pence announced earlier today in the Israeli parliament that the United States was accelerating its timetable for moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. "In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem -- and the embassy will open next year." After careful talks with the Jordanian king and Egyptian president, the vice president treaded carefully, explaining, "Our president made his decision in the best interest of the United States, but he also made it clear that we believe this decision is in the best interest of peace."
His speech was a strong defense of the White House's decision and a personal reassurance that the alliance Barack Obama nearly destroyed is stronger than ever. "The United States and Israel have long stood together to confront the terrible evil of terrorism, and so we will continue. And across the Middle East, Arab leaders have responded, as well, to the President's call with unprecedented action to root out radicalism and prove the emptiness of its apocalyptic promises. The winds of change," he went on, "can already be witnessed across the Middle East. Longstanding enemies are becoming partners. Old foes are finding new ground for cooperation. And the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael are coming together in common cause as never before."
As proof of this new climate, the fissures between Israel and Jordan have been at least partially repaired. Late last week, the Israeli foreign ministry offered its apologies for a shooting by an Israeli security guard that killed two Jordanian citizens. Relations between the two nations had been so strained that Jordan closed Israel's embassy in Amman. Now, thanks to this gesture (which was likely at the Trump administration's prompting), the office has reopened. For people in the region, it's just another example of the positive influence the U.S. can have in preserving vital security ties.
For Vice President Pence, religious liberty continues to be on the table of topics for discussion with our friends in the Middle East. As Open Doors just reported in its "2018 Watch List," 215 million Christians continue to be severely persecuted for their faith, "mostly by Muslims." They include, the organization points out, "Muslims from among America's closest allies (Saudi Arabia #12 worst persecutor) and Muslims from its opponents (Iran #10); Muslims from rich nations (Qatar #27 and Kuwait #34) and Muslims from poor nations (Afghanistan #2, Somalia #3, and Yemen #9); Muslims from widely recognized "radical" nations (Pakistan #5), and Muslims from "moderate" nations (Malaysia #23 and Indonesia #38)."
If America has any hope of easing the suffering, it will take more conversations like Mike Pence's and actions. Actions like the Senate confirming Governor Sam Brownback (R-Kans.) for Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom. Sam's nomination passed out of the Foreign Relations Committee late last week, but it will take some prodding from you to finish the job. Contact your senators and urge them to expedite the vote for Governor Brownback! Innocent lives depend on it.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.