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Pence to visit Auschwitz memorial and meet Israeli prime minister during Europe trip

Vice President Pence. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Vice President Pence will visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau site on Friday and tour a memorial to Jews and others killed at the extermination camp run by Nazis in occupied Poland as part of a European trip that will also focus on the Trump administration’s view of Iran as the main source of instability in the Middle East.

Pence will tour the site in southern Poland with Polish President Andrzej Duda, a senior White House official said Monday. It will be Pence’s first visit to the infamous concentration camp operated by Nazi Germany during World War II. Portions of the camp where an estimated 1.1 million people died are preserved as a museum and memorial.

Pence will be in Poland this week for a joint U.S.-Polish conference on Middle East peace and security. He also will hold defense meetings in Poland as the Pentagon considers a potential permanent base for U.S. forces in the country.

Pence, a conservative Christian, is among the Trump administration’s strongest supporters of Israel. He plans to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when both are in Warsaw for the Middle East conference.

Pence and Netanyahu will tour a memorial to the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising, in which Jewish residents resisted Nazi efforts to deport remaining inhabitants. The Nazis crushed the uprising after about a month, and Jews were deported.

Pence’s keynote remarks at the Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East will highlight what the United States and Israel assert is Iran’s widespread malign influence across the Middle East.

“The vice president will essentially call out Iran for their actions. He will give a message to those groups that are there, that, you know, if you stand with us, we’ll stand with you,” a White House official said.

European allies, Asian nations and others represented at the session oppose the Trump administration’s withdrawal last year from the international nuclear compact with Iran. Many are trying to lessen the potential impact of sanctions the United States reimposed on businesses and countries doing business with Iran.

Despite joining U.S. condemnation of alleged Iranian funding for terrorist groups, many of those same nations also maintain wide diplomatic and economic ties with Iran, and resist the administration’s hard-line approach.

“The Ministerial, co-hosted by the United States and Poland, seeks to bring together countries concerned about instability in the region to share their assessments and offer ideas on a better way forward,” the White House said in a statement last month announcing the session.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed the meeting as a “desperate anti-Iran circus.”

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and lead envoy for Israeli-Palestinian peace, will attend the conference, along with negotiator and former Trump lawyer Jason D. Greenblatt.

A U.S. proposal for a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, two years in the making, is likely to be released by the summer. Palestinians have boycotted meetings with Kushner and his team for more than a year in protest of Trump’s decision to declare contested Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

Trump has said the decision — and the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — does not prejudge Palestinians’ claims to occupied East Jerusalem for the capital of a future state.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also attending the Warsaw conference that begins Wednesday.

The Palestinian Authority is boycotting the event, and calling on Arab governments to follow suit, or at least to not send high-level delegations. Many Arab states are planning to send relatively low-level representatives, but Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are among Gulf states planning to send foreign ministers.

Pence will use the venue to encourage the tentative signs of warming relations between Gulf states and Israel, said the White House official, one of three who requested anonymity to discuss diplomatic priorities ahead of the trip.

Pence will also speak Saturday at the annual Munich Security Conference, where he is expected to return to the theme of confronting China over trade and intellectual property practices.

Pence angered Chinese officials with strong language on those subjects in a speech last year. His speech in Germany comes as the administration is negotiating with China over terms of a potential trade agreement, with an announced deadline of March 1.

In Germany, Pence is also slated to meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.