128 nations reject US recognition of J'lem as Israel capital

Despite threats, Trump team undecided on how to punish countries for UN vote

While State Department says ‘no decisions have been made,’ another US official says ‘countries are no longer going to be given a free pass for their UN votes’

US President Donald Trump speaks with the press at the White House on December 16, 2017. (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)
US President Donald Trump speaks with the press at the White House on December 16, 2017. (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has not yet decided what steps to take against countries that voted against it and backed a UN General Assembly resolution on Thursday.

The US has threatened that those nations, as well as the world body itself, could lose US aid over the vote. Those warnings have come both from US President Donald Trump and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who again cautioned countries ahead of the vote not to support the measure rejecting the administration’s formal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“No decisions have been made,” State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters during a press briefing Thursday after the vote, when asked about what the US will do in response. She also said that Trump’s foreign policy team “has been empowered to explore various options” about how this will effect its relationships with countries that voted to nullify its Jerusalem decision.

Despite Washington’s warnings, 128 countries voted in favor of the resolution on Thursday, with 9 voting against,  35 countries abstaining and 21 no-shows.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, August 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Haley announced on Tuesday that the US would be “taking names” of the UN member states that supported the resolution. Trump then backed her up on Wednesday, saying US aid to such countries could be pulled.

“They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us,” he said at his last cabinet meeting of the year. “Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”

But after the votes were tallied on Thursday, it was not clear how exactly the United States planned to penalize those who went against it.

One US source said countries would not be excused for the vote, but that this one infraction would not necessarily be the sole consideration the administration makes when dealing with a bilateral relationship.

“As the president said yesterday, countries are no longer going to be given a free pass for their UN votes,” a spokesman for the US Mission to the UN told The Times of Israel. “We will use UN votes as one factor in our foreign relations. It’s not going to be the only factor, or even necessarily the number one factor, but it will no longer be ignored.”

United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, addresses the General Assembly prior to the vote on Jerusalem, on December 21, 2017, at UN Headquarters in New York. (AFP PHOTO / EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ)

In her remarks before the General Assembly on Thursday, Haley suggested that a response would come in the form of decreased financial support.

“We have an obligation to demand more for our investment,” she said. “If our investment fails, we have an obligation to spend our resources in more productive ways.”

Veteran US diplomats have expressed deep skepticism that the Trump administration will ultimately be able to follow through on cutting aid to its key allies over the resolution, such as Egypt and Jordan. Elliott Abrams, who held multiple high-level positions in the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, said it was “inconceivable,” as aid to those countries serve a vital US national security interest in the region.

But it is possible, he said, the US could retaliate against states it expected to vote with it at the General Assembly in other ways, like having its secretary of state or Trump’s national security adviser refuse to meet with foreign ministers and prime ministers of those countries when they request a meeting.

“What you really want them to do is that the next time somebody tries this, they work with us to avoid such a vote,” he told The Times of Israel on Wednesday. “The goal here is not just to say, ‘We’re angry.’ The goal is to say, ‘We’re angry and this better not happen again.'”

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