Israel and Bhutan have announced the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The agreement on Saturday will “open the path to greater cooperation and further strengthen relations” between Israel and the South Asian kingdom, according to a joint statement.
Israel’s new relations with the relatively-isolated Himalayan nation did not appear to be related to its budding ties under US-sponsored accords with Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa.
The agreement follows several years of secret contacts between Israel and Bhutan with the aim of establishing relations, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
“Israel’s circle of recognition is growing and expanding,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
“The establishment of relations between us and the Kingdom of Bhutan will serve as another milestone in deepening Israel’s ties in Asia.”
Israel’s previous lack of relations with Bhutan was not linked to the conflict with the Palestinians nor to the US-brokered agreements seeking normalization with Israel from Muslim states, but rather a result of Bhutan’s isolationist policies. The remote kingdom has a population of just over 770,000 people and only began allowing foreign tourists into the country in 1970. TV and internet were legalized in 1999.
The foreign ministry said Israel has maintained secret contacts with Bhutan in recent years that have included visits by delegations from Israel to the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu, and by Bhutan officials to Israel.
Bhutan has diplomatic relations with just over 50 countries, a list that includes Canada, Germany, Denmark, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, and Cuba. The US and the UK, countries that don’t have full diplomatic relations with the kingdom, maintain informal contacts with Bhutan via India.