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State Department's Ortagus on New Israel-Bahrain Diplomacy

Sep.11 -- U.S. State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus discusses the announcement that Bahrain will become the second Gulf nation to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, joining the United Arab Emirates at the White House for a ceremony celebrating the nations' new relationships next week. She speaks with Bloomberg's Kevin Cirilli in Washington.

Video Transcript

KEVIN CIRILLI: Morgan, another major development in Middle East peace talks with the Israelis announcing normalization of ties with Bahrain.


KEVIN CIRILLI: How did this deal come about?

MORGAN ORTAGUS: Well, I just left the Oval Office with President Trump and his entire team. And I have to say, it was an incredibly historic moment. It was one of those moments-- I was staring at the painting of Abraham Lincoln. It was one of those moments that you remember for a lifetime.

And on the call, right before the press came in, President Trump was talking to Prime Minister Netanyahu and King Hamad of Bahrain. And Prime Minister Netanyahu made the point that it took 26 years to get to an Arab-Israel peace deal. We haven't had one in 26 years. And within 29 days, this administration has had its second historic recognition of Israel from a Gulf Arab state. And we hope that there's more to come in the Middle East, but I think that this is an amazing moment.

How did this happen? And I think that's a great question that you ask. This happens because at the very beginning of this administration, the very first trip that President Trump took overseas was to the Middle East, especially to the Gulf, and then he went to Israel at the end of the trip. And he made it clear that his policy was going to be radically different for the Middle East than that of the previous administration.

His policy that he said it was going to pursue was a policy of peace, but it would be one of helping and emboldening our allies and friends, and that means the Gulf states and the state of Israel, and that will mean not rewarding the state of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran. So we've had two years, two and a half years of a maximum economic pressure campaign against the state of Iran so that they are unable to fund their terror network in the region. And now you're seeing Arabs and Israelis come together.

KEVIN CIRILLI: What did withdrawing from the Iran deal signal to states like Bahrain and other Arab states?

MORGAN ORTAGUS: That's a great question. You know, people often ask about, what do our allies think about President Trump withdrawing from some of these international deals? I can tell you-- it's obvious. You cover the Europeans. You know that they weren't thrilled. They didn't agree with our decision. Saying that, it doesn't get enough coverage how betrayed are Gulf Arab allies felt about this deal.

They have been very concerned about the billions of dollars that was given to the regime in sanctions relief, the regime in Tehran through the JCPOA. And they were on the frontlines of the terror that was being exported from Tehran during the JCPOA before the sanctions were instituted again. They've had tax on Saudi oil fields, attacks on their ships, attacks on civilian airports, right? Throughout the region. And so these our allies that-- and friends and partners that live next to Iran that understood that and emboldening them and giving them billions of dollars was not going to bring peace to the Middle East. In fact, it was setting the Middle East on fire.

KEVIN CIRILLI: From an economic standpoint, that was also a really-- that has been a really crucial component of all of these negotiations, not just--


KEVIN CIRILLI: --typically the-- a militaristic approach. What, economically, did the administration push for between the Israelis and Bahrain?

MORGAN ORTAGUS: That's another fantastic question. And I think it's important to remember that the benefits of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain having this now recognition and peace with Israel-- and the importance of this of this recognition is that you have, you know, both UAE and Israel and Bahrain as well, these are all countries that are very technologically advanced. They are countries that have diverse economies, especially UAE, of course. Israel has managed to make it in the region without oil, and so they've had to be incredibly ingenuitive.

So I think when it comes to cybersecurity, when it comes to intellectual property, when it comes to new tech developments, you're going to see collaboration between the Gulf Arabs and Israel, from an economic perspective, in ways that you've never dreamed before. You could see it just by having commercial flights that now go from Israel to Abu Dhabi, that fly over Saudi Arabia. So you're going to begin to see businessmen and women in Israel and in Bahrain and in UAE doing business together.

And listen, everybody's economy post-COVID needs some sort of recovery. So this is the time when you should be strengthening alliances, strengthening trade, strengthening economic ties. And we think that this will be an economic-- incredibly positive thing for these states.

KEVIN CIRILLI: Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, UAE-- there's a lot of talk that there could be some other states to follow. What signal does this send to the Palestinians right now, as they're looking at now two Gulf Arab states in a matter of weeks?

MORGAN ORTAGUS: Well, the Palestinians should know that we want them to have a state, and we want them to have peace. I think the Palestinian people have fallen victim for quite some time to a leadership that is corrupt and that does not care about peace but instead, about preserving their own leadership.

You know, I'd ask the Palestinian people, what has this leadership done for you? How have they advanced the cause of peace? How have they improved your economic security?

So remember, under President Trump's Middle East Vision for Peace that he laid out in February-- January, February of this year, we, for the first time in this Vision for Peace, got Israel to agree to a Palestinian state-- never been able to do that before, right? So we just need the Palestinians to come to the table. We think the Palestinian people should put pressure on their leadership to know, it is a new day in the Middle East.

KEVIN CIRILLI: And just two quick topics. I know you're--


KEVIN CIRILLI: --carefully monitoring this on the Afghan peace talks with the Taliban.


KEVIN CIRILLI: Can you give us any update on where those talks stand?

MORGAN ORTAGUS: Yeah, so President Trump announced yesterday from the White House that he was sending Secretary Mike Pompeo to Doha. What you'll see tomorrow on all of-- on the television is the opening ceremonies of the intra-Afghan negotiations, and Secretary Pompeo will be there with the government of Afghanistan, with the Taliban, with civil society to kick off these negotiations.

Listen, the hardest thing that diplomats do-- the hardest job that Mike Pompeo and Zal Khalilzad have-- are getting to peace at the end of a war. Whenever you have had 19 years of Americans fighting the Taliban, of working-- we've been working with the government of Afghanistan, the fighting--

KEVIN CIRILLI: Since 9/11.

MORGAN ORTAGUS: --has continued. Yeah, since 9/11. Well, exactly, a very poignant day for you and I to be discussing this. So we know that there is no way to fight your way out of this problem in Afghanistan, that we have to get all parties to the table to negotiate. Secretary Pompeo is there and will be kicking this off, and I think it's certainly historic days.

KEVIN CIRILLI: And then lastly, China announcing that they were going to be taking some type of diplomatic, retaliatory measures, they're saying, in terms of the actions that the US had taken with diplomats here in the US. It really does feel like another-- escalating tensions between the Communist Party of China and the US.

MORGAN ORTAGUS: You know, we're cool as a cucumber, right? We don't feel tensions are escalating-- in fact, just the opposite. What we have done is made it very clear to the Chinese Communist Party that we want a reciprocal relationship. So if our diplomats in China are not allowed to meet with universities, if they have to get permission in order to have any sort of meetings or cultural events, Chinese diplomats in the US are going to have those same restrictions.

Now, what we would like is no restrictions on anyone's diplomats. We would like Chinese diplomats to be able to move around freely in the United States and allow our diplomats in China to do so. So far, the Chinese Communist Party have been unwilling to treat American diplomats in China the same way we treat their diplomats here.

So we will continue to have a fair and reciprocal relationship. If they want to get to zero, right? In the sense of letting everyone be open and free, we're happy to get there. All they have to do is say the word.