White House: 'No Decision' Yet on U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem

In first daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Spicer says Trump administration 'at the very early stages of that decision making progress.'

U.S. President Donald Trump, Jan. 23, 2017.
Ron Sachs/Bloomberg

WASHINGTON D.C. - No decision has been made on moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the White House said on Monday.

In the first daily press briefing since U.S. President Donald Trump took office on Friday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said "there's no decision" on relocating the embassy to Jerusalem, adding: "We're at the very early stages of that decision making progress."

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Spicer released a somewhat similar statement on Sunday. Last week, a day before Trump's inauguration, he said details regarding the embassy move will be published "soon" and advised reporters to "stay tuned."

Spicer's statements since Trump's swearing cast doubt on the move. 

Moving the embassy to Jerusalem is not a top priority for Trump at this time, MSNBC reported earlier on Monday, citing a source in the administration. Joe Scarborough, the host of the network's popular morning show, said that Trump's priority in the region was to work towards a Middle East peace deal.

"They are not going to move on Jerusalem for quite some time, they want a peace deal in the Middle East, that is their top priority and they have been told under no uncertain terms, that the recognition of Jerusalem sets that back for the next four years," Scarborough said. "So, that's not happening... while they measure out the possibility of actually getting peace in the Middle East."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump spoke on the phone on Sunday night. Statements issued by the Prime Minister's Office and the White House did not mention the issue of relocating the embassy and is it not clear whether the two leaders discussed the subject.

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met on Sunday with Jordan's King Abdullah II in Amman about the possibility the new U.S. administration would move Washington's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Abbas said after the meeting that the two leaders agreed on a list of steps they would take if such a decision is implemented.

At the briefing, Spicer also announced a new White House policy to allow journalists from media outlets located outside Washington to join the daily press briefings and ask questions by Skype. This, Spicer explained, would allow for "more voices outside of the Beltway" to be heard, at least virtually, at the briefings.

On foreign policy, Spicer mentioned Trump's phone call on Monday with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi. The conversation, he said, focused on Egypt's fight against ISIS and its affiliates in the Sinai Peninsula. Trump told al-Sissi that the U.S. is "strongly committed to the bilateral relationship" with Egypt and to ensuring Egypt's success in the fight against terrorism. The two leaders also discussed a future visit by Sissi in Washington.