US committed to Israel embassy move but expected to act cautiously

Updated 7:54 AM EST, Mon January 23, 2017
01:31 - Source: CNN
Can Trump make peace in the Middle East?
(CNN) —  

While remaining committed to relocating the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the Trump administration is expected to move cautiously on a timeline as it focuses on critical issues in the American relationship with the Israeli government and consults with allies about the way forward, senior administration, Israeli and diplomatic sources tell CNN.

The White House confirmed President Donald Trump invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington in early February in a phone call between the two leaders Sunday.

A senior administration official said that moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv remains a priority for the president but cautioned that it would not be happen quickly. No announcements are expected Monday or in the coming days, the official said, adding that working on the issue will be one of the first tasks awaiting Jared Kushner, a senior adviser and son-in-law to Trump.

The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, told Israeli Army Radio on Monday that he is in contact with the White House about moving the embassy to Jerusalem.

“I do know, from the talks I’ve been holding with members of the American administration, that they are serious about their intention,” Barkat said. “They have several assets in Jerusalem that could provide a solution. I definitely think that you don’t move an embassy in a day.”

03:39 - Source: CNN
Israel amb. supports U.S. Embassy Jerusalem move

Arab and European diplomats said there have been signs Trump and his advisers could slow down implementing a formal relocation amid warnings from Arab and European officials to the incoming administration that the move could unleash violence, undermine the peace process, damage US standing in the Middle East, and endanger American personnel. They have urged the incoming administration to consult with allies about the move and put it in the context of a broader strategy toward addressing the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer stressed Sunday the administration was in the beginning stages of discussions regarding Trump’s campaign pledge to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Spicer, asked whether a move will be announced soon, told reporters: “We are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject.” Last week Spicer said “there would be a further announcement” on moving the embassy, saying “the president has made clear that Israel has not gotten the respect it deserves.”

Yet the subject of the embassy move, which would represent a major change in US policy, was not the focus of the call Sunday between Trump and Netanyahu, administration and Israeli officials said. Statements from both governments about the call did not even mention the issue, saying the two leaders spoke about Iran, Syria and peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

In a statement after the phone call, the White House said Trump “affirmed his unprecedented commitment to Israel’s security” and said he invited Netanyahu to an early February meeting at the White House.

“The President emphasized that peace between Israel and the Palestinians can only be negotiated directly between the two parties, and that the United States will work closely with Israel to make progress towards that goal. The President invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to an early February meeting at the White House,” the statement said.

While Israel has long wanted the US to move the embassy and has welcomed Trump’s pledge, top Israeli officials have said the issue is not the most important in the relationship, stressing the threat posed by Iran, the violence in Syria and the need for Israel to improve its relations with Arab states remained the government’s top priorities.

Netanyahu’s office said the two leaders had a “very warm conversation” and pledged to “work closely with President Trump to forge a common vision to advance peace and security in the region, with no daylight between the United States and Israel.”

Shortly after a White House staff swearing-in ceremony, Trump told a pool reporter he had a “very nice” call with Netanyahu. He ignored a shouted question about moving the embassy.