WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday that he still "may go" to the ceremony in Jerusalem next month celebrating the opening of the American embassy in the city, and bragged about saving money by rejecting an initial proposal to devote $1 billion for the construction of a new embassy, and replacing it with a significantly more moderate plan costing close to $400,000 instead.
Trump said during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the original plan for relocating the embassy was supposed to cost $1 billion, and that he rejected signing it because of the price. He added that U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman pitched a plan thereafter that would cost just $150,000, and that the two eventually "settled" on a plan that will cost American taxpayers between $300,000 and $400,000.
The current American plan is to announce the existing consular building in southern Jerusalem as the embassy's location, and move only a small number of offices from the embassy in Tel Aviv to that building as an initial step. This might explain Trump's comments, which caught many on Washington by surprise.
The larger step of moving the entire embassy to a new location in Jerusalem would cost more than the sum Trump mentioned, and would also take more time. Trump's former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, announced last year that constructing a new embassy in Jerusalem would take years, and probably won't be done within Trump's first term in office.
That comment by Tillerson was made before the administration settled for the current plan of relocating a limited number of offices to the existing consular building and declaring it the location of the embassy.
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Last week it was reported that the American delegation to the upcoming ceremony in Jerusalem will be led by Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka, as well as by Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin. In addition, Trump's newly appointed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel, as well as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, on his first foreign trip on the job this weekend.
If Trump himself chooses to attend the ceremony next month, it will be his second visit to Israel since taking office after including the country on his first foreign trip last spring.