Trump's National Security Adviser Refuses Twice to Say Western Wall Is Part of Israel

White House confirms president's itinerary for Israel trip, Western Wall visit meant to highlight 'need for religious unity,' H.R. McMaster says

President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he walks down the steps of Air Force One at General Mitchell International Airport, Tuesday, April 18, 2017.
President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he walks down the steps of Air Force One at General Mitchell International Airport, Tuesday, April 18, 2017. AP Photo/ Susan Walsh

WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, twice refused to say whether the Western Wall, which the president is set to visit next week, is part of Israel. McMaster made the remarks while he was outlining the itinerary of Trump's upcoming trip to Israel at a Tuesday press briefing.

McMaster's refusal to answer questions about the sovereignty over the Western Wall comes a day after the White House disavowed the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem's decision not to hold talks with Israeli officials on Trump's Western Wall visit because it is in the West Bank.

"That's a policy decision," he noted. McMaster also said that Trump will travel from Saudi Arabia to Jerusalem, possibly keeping in line with long-standing American policy to not recognize East Jerusalem, occupied in 1967, as part of Israel.

Also at the press briefing, McMaster said that Trump did not have an inappropriate conversation or one that caused a lapse in national security when he met with senior Russian officials last week at the White House. 

"I stand by my statement that I made yesterday," McMaster told a White House briefing. "What I'm saying is really the premise of that article was false, that in any way the president had a conversation that was inappropriate or resulted in any kind of lapse in national security." 

Travelling from Saudi Arabia, Trump will land in Israel on May 22 and meet with President Reuven Rivlin. He will then lay a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and deliver a speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Trump was earlier said to be planning a visit to Masada in the Judean Desert, but it didn't appear in the itinerary outlined by McMaster.

Trump is then set to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, followed by a private dinner for Trump and his wife, Melania, hosted by Netanyahu and his wife Sara.

On his visit to the Western Wall, Trump is not planned on being accompanied by any Israeli politicians. Trump's visit to the site is meant to "highlight the need the unity for the world's three great religions," McMaster said.

Diplomats stationed at the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem recently refused to hold talks with Israeli officials about arrangements for Trump's trip to the Western Wall, claiming that the site is in the West Bank, and therefore the Israeli government has no authority over it.

The White House later disavowed the remarks. "These comments, if true, were not authorized by the White House. They do not reflect the U.S. position, and certainly not the President’s position," a White House spokesman told Haaretz.

McMaster said that Trump will also meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.

Reuters contributed to this report.