Scoop: U.S. urges Niger to resume relations with Israel
Secretary of State Tony Blinken during his recent visit to Niger urged the country's president to move toward normalizing relations with Israel, two U.S. and Israeli officials told Axios.
Why it matters: Blinken and President Mohamed Bazoum's discussion on Israel, which was not previously disclosed, is another sign that the Biden administration is working behind the scenes to include more Arab and Muslim-majority countries in the Abraham Accords.
Driving the news: Blinken's trip to Niger in mid-March made him the first U.S. secretary of state to ever visit the West African Muslim-majority country, which is emerging as a key U.S. security partner in the Sahel.
Behind the scenes: Two weeks after his visit to Niger, Blinken spoke on the phone with his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen and briefed him on his talks, which also included Niger Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou, the Israeli and U.S. officials said.
- Israeli officials said Cohen proposed inviting Niger to participate in the Negev Forum, which includes the U.S., Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt.
- Israeli officials said that the leadership in Niger was willing to move forward with warming ties with Israel and even reestablishing diplomatic relations, but they want to get some kind of deliverables from the Biden administration.
- The Niger Embassy in Washington told Axios in an email that it was not aware of any "discussion held between ... Secretary Blinken and Niger authorities on its relations with Israel." The email added that any reports about a Niger request to get deliverables from the U.S. are "simply false."
- The State Department declined to comment.
Flashback: Israel had diplomatic relations with Niger in the 1960s but they broke down in 1973. The two countries renewed ties in 1996 after the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, but Niger cut ties again in 2002 during the second intifada.
- In recent years, there have been informal relations between the countries, which have taken place mostly behind the scenes, Israeli officials said.
- Since 2018, Israel has strengthened its ties in Africa, mainly in the Sahel. Israel reestablished ties with Chad, started a normalization process with Sudan, and held secret talks on normalizing relations with Somalia.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the comment from the Niger Embassy in Washington. ]