Tillerson Says U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem Unlikely During Trump's Current Term

Speaking at the State Department, top U.S. diplomat says relocating embassy to Jerusalem even in three years would be 'pretty ambitious'

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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on the U.S.-Korea relationship during a forum at the Atlantic Council in Washington, U.S. December 12, 2017.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a forum at the Atlantic Council in Washington, U.S. December 12, 2017. Credit: JONATHAN ERNST/Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem could take at least three years if not longer, raising the possibility that such a move is unlikely to take place during President Trump's current term in office.

“It’s not going to be anything that happens right away," Tillerson said in comments he made at the State Department, The New York Times reported, "Probably no earlier than three years out, and that’s pretty ambitious."

Tillerson last week had put the timeline as sometime during the next two years.

After Trump's historic announcement last Wednesday that the United States was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, White House officials said in background briefings that the move would be completed over a period of three to four years.

But Tillerson's comments Tuesday were the most explicit, on-the-record statement from an administration official to date outlining their plans. They have cited logistical considerations for the delay.

White House officials have noted that when U.S. embassies were moved to new locations in the past, it took as long as five years.

But Mar Zell, the chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel, said he was disappointed, by Tillerson's news and suggested that moving the embassy could have been as simple as changing the sign in front of the U.S. Consulate buildings in Jerusalem.

“I have stated in previous interviews that if the United States wished to do so, it could have moved the embassy immediately by redesignating the American consulates in Jerusalem as embassies. All it would have required is changing the signs on them. Nor would it have been a problem to relocate the ambassador’s residence to Jerusalem or simply provide him with an office there," he told Haaretz.

Trump signed the same national security waiver his predecessors have signed before him to delay the embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for another six months. Administration officials have said it was likely Trump was likely to sign waiver in future, again citing the time needed to logistically coordinate such a move.

Trump's announcement on Jerusalem broke with decades of American policy not to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital until a decision on the city's status is forged in a future possible peace deal with the Palestinians. Israel annexed traditionally Arab East Jerusalem in 1967 from Jordan during the Six-Day War. The Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as a future capital of a Palestinian state.

News of Trump's Jerusalem in declaration has sparked protests in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza and around the Arab world, some of them violent.

Tillerson’s announcement, according to Zell, indicated that the United States plans to build a new embassy from scratch. “Why they made this decision, I don’t know,” he said. “It strikes me as a needless expense considering that the president is currently cutting back on the State Department budget.”

He surmised that the decision might have been prompted by political considerations. “Maybe they wanted to take the sting out of the presidential proclamation on Jerusalem in order to facilitate the creation of a coalition of Arab states to combat Iran,” Zell said.

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