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Scoop: Pompeo denies meeting with Israeli foreign minister, blames schedule

Israel foreign minister Israel Katz. Photo: SEBASTIAN SCHEINER/Getty Images

Israel's new foreign minister Israel Katz visited Washington, D.C., this week for the first time since he was appointed, but didn't get to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Israeli and U.S. officials say the reason given by Pompeo's office was his tight schedule.

Why it matters: This is unusual compared to previous visits to Washington by Israeli foreign ministers. Typically, a first visit to Washington by an Israeli foreign minister includes a long meeting with the secretary of state as well as a formal reception, photo opportunity and sometimes a press conference or statement.

Catch up quick: Katz traveled to Washington on Monday night and issued a statement indicating he planned to meet with Pompeo. The Israeli foreign ministry and the Israeli embassy in Washington asked for a meeting to be arranged, but the secretary's office declined. Israeli officials told me Pompeo's office said his schedule did not allow time for the meeting.

But, but, but: In the 48 hours that Katz was in Washington, Pompeo met the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Greece, Tunisia and Columbia, in addition to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Pompeo met all 4 foreign ministers in his office at the State Department with photo-ops before the meetings.

Katz ultimately met Pompeo for a handshake and short conversation during one of the receptions at the State Department ministerial meeting on religious freedom this week.

  • The U.S. special envoy for religious freedom, Sam Brownback, was the only State Department official to schedule a formal meeting with Katz.

Katz didn't have any meetings at the White House during his 2-day visit, but saw several lawmakers.

What they're saying: Katz's office told me the State Department proposed 2 options:

  • A short meeting with Pompeo on the sidelines of the conference.
  • Or a longer meeting during a future visit to Washington.

His office said the foreign minister picked the second choice and another visit to Washington will include a meeting with Pompeo to be coordinated soon.

"The friendship between the United States and Israel has never been stronger. We were honored to welcome Foreign Minister Katz to the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom and deeply appreciate Israel's commitment to religious freedom, a value we share. Unfortunately, the Secretary and the Foreign Minister were unable to meet due to scheduling conflicts. The Secretary looks forward to working together with the Foreign Minister to continue to build upon the strong U.S.-Israel partnership."
— a State Department official told me