Trump Administration Pressuring Paraguay Not to Move Embassy Back From Jerusalem to Tel Aviv

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U.S. President Donald Trump on his way to board Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House, September 6, 2018.
U.S. President Donald Trump on his way to board Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House, September 6, 2018.Credit: AFP

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is putting pressure on Paraguay not to cancel its decision to move the Paraguayan embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

A statement by the White House on Thursday said that the administration has contacted Paraguay's new President Mario Abdo Benitez, and asked him not to reverse his predecessor's decision on this matter.

According to the statement, the administration "strongly encouraged President Abdo Benitez to follow through with Paraguay’s previous commitment to move the embassy as a sign of the historic relationship the country has maintained with both Israel and the United States."

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The Paraguayan reply to this request was not mentioned in the statement.

“Paraguay wants to contribute to an intensification of regional diplomatic efforts to achieve a broad, fair and lasting peace in the Middle East,” Foreign Minister Luis Alberto Castiglioni said Wednesday when it was announced that the country will move its embassy from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with Paraguay's President Horacio Cartes during their meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, Monday, May 21, 2018. Credit: Sebastian Scheiner/AP

Israel will close its embassy in Paraguay and recall its ambassador for consultations following the announcement, according to the Prime Minister's Office.

Former President Horacio Cartes made the decision to move the diplomatic site to Jerusalem. His successor Mario Abdo Benitez, also a member of the conservative Colorado party, took office last month.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki pushed the new Paraguayan president to reverse the move, according to the Palestinian foreign ministry.

The Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that the efforts to change the Paraguayan decision began after Abdo was sworn in. Al-Maliki participated in the inauguration ceremony and agreed with Castiglioni a month ago. It was decided that the Palestinians would not publicize the decision in order for Israeli not to apply pressure to Paraguay.

Al-Maliki expressed his appreciation for the Paraguayan president, saying: "The decision is in accordance with international law and Security Council decisions. It's a breakthrough for Palestinian diplomacy vis-à-vis the international community."

Paraguay officially moved its country’s embassy to Jerusalem on May 21, with Cartes in Israel for the ceremony, also attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Paraguay was the third country to move its embassy to Jerusalem, following the United States and Guatemala. The inauguration ceremony took place at the embassy’s new home in the Malkha technology park, which also houses the Guatemalan embassy.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appealed to Latin American countries afterward not to move their embassies to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, describing East Jerusalem as "the capital of the Palestinian state."

Speaking during a visit to the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, Abbas said most countries respect the status of East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said his government was a "friend" of "Arab peoples" and that it supported "the cause of a free, independent and peaceful Palestine."

Local media in Paraguay reported that the decision to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem has drawn criticism in the country, and the decision will be reevaluated under the administration of the incoming president, Mario Abdo Benitez.

Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid political party, said in response: "I condemn the Paraguayan decision to move the embassy from Jerusalem. We do not have nor will we ever have another capital city but the united city of Jerusalem."

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