Pence delays trip to Middle East

12_18_Pence_Jerusalem

Vice President Mike Pence will delay a controversial trip to Israel and Egypt to stay in Washington and help pass sweeping tax reforms later this week, he announced Monday.

The status of Jerusalem, which holds Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites, is one of the thorniest obstacles to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, who were furious over Trump's move and have declined to meet with Pence.

Pence, a strong supporter of Trump's decision, was to spend three days in the region with stops in Israel and Egypt, the first high-level official to visit after the president reversed decades of USA policy and announced the United States would start the process of moving its embassy from Tel Aviv.

Pence's office said it chose to delay the trip to ensure Senate passage of the GOP tax bill, which is likely to keep the vice president in Washington past his scheduled Tuesday night departure.

"We have some senators who obviously can't make it there for the vote and the vice president feels that it's important for him to be here for the largest tax cut in history", the official said.

Rabinowitz said privately, however, that he feared violence if Pence were allowed to speak, since it could be seen as a political statement just two weeks after President Donald Trump announced the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital, a local television station reported.

The fallout continued Monday as the United States vetoed a draft UN resolution rejecting Trump's Jerusalem move, after all 14 other Security Council members - including allies like Britain - voted for the measure. "We'll obviously still go to Egypt and Israel, but we may add additional countries", the official said. John McCain's expected absence due to health issues.

Pence was scheduled to leave Tuesday night, arriving in Egypt on Wednesday for a bilateral meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi.

The trip was already in a disarray after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refused to meet Pence following the Jerusalem announcement on December 6.

"The tax vote is still in very good shape, but we don't want to take any chances whatsoever", said a senior administration official.

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