US government shutdown threat: Pence to continue Middle East trip
US government shutdown threat: Pence to continue Middle East trip

US Vice President Mike Pence will still head to the Middle East late on Friday for a high-stakes trip, despite the threat of a federal government shutdown looming over Washington, his spokeswoman said.

“The vice president’s meetings with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, and Israel are integral to America’s national security and diplomatic objectives,” his press secretary Alyssa Farah told AFP.

“The vice president will travel to the Middle East as scheduled.”

A US official said the decision would not be changed no matter what happens on Friday on Capitol Hill, where Republicans and Democrats aim to reach a deal before midnight to avoid a partial shutdown of federal government services.

President Donald Trump and the Senate’s top Democrat both touted “progress” in the 11th hour talks on breaking an impasse over spending, raising hopes that a shutdown could be averted.

Initially set for late December, Pence’s trip was pushed back as the region reeled from deadly protests triggered by President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – in a break with decades of US policy.

Another source of tension is the US decision this week to freeze tens of millions of dollars meant for the United Nations relief agency for Palestinians (UNRWA).

Pence will arrive in Cairo on Saturday for a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, heading the following day to Amman for a one-on-one with King Abdullah II.

His trip will conclude on January 22-23 with a two-day visit to Israel, where he will meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, deliver a speech to the Knesset, visit the Western Wall and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

In the event of a government shutdown, the US defence department said military operations in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan would not be impacted.

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