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European envoys said sent to White House, State Department to protest Golan move

Israeli TV says ambassadors from UK, France and Germany expressed concern that recognition of plateau as Israeli could legitimize Russian annexation of Crimea

US President Donald Trump (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold up a Golan Heights proclamation outside the West Wing after a meeting at the White House on March 25, 2019, in Washington. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)
US President Donald Trump (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold up a Golan Heights proclamation outside the West Wing after a meeting at the White House on March 25, 2019, in Washington. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

Ambassadors from Britain, France and Germany held talks with senior American officials at the White House and State Department to protest US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Israeli television reported Wednesday.

According to Channel 13, the envoys met with Victoria Coates, the senior director for the Middle East on the National Security Council, and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield, during which they expressed their strong objections to the move.

Quoting three unnamed European diplomats, the network described the meetings as heated and said the ambassadors reiterated the European Union’s stance that the recognition violated internal law and UN Security Council resolutions concerning the status of the Golan Heights.

Israel captured the strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and later effectively annexed the area in a move never recognized by the international community, which considers the Golan Heights to be occupied Syrian territory.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield speaks during a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Beirut, Lebanon, on March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

US officials told the ambassadors that the move was necessary in light of Iranian efforts to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israel, as well as the years-long absence of peace negotiations between Jerusalem and Damascus, according to the report.

The envoys also reportedly expressed concern the US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan could legitimize Russia’s occupation and subsequent annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine.

“In the case of the Golan Heights, Israel took over the area after a war that was forced on it. In the case of Crimea, the Russians weren’t attacked but rather invaded the area on their own initiative,” the American officials were quoted saying in response.

Additionally, the European ambassadors inquired whether the recognition changed the US stance on UNDOF, a UN peacekeeping force setup in 1974 to monitor the ceasefire between Israel and Syria following the Yom Kippur War.

The US officials responded that the Trump administration wants UNDOF to continue its work along the border, a position they said was shared by Israel, according to the network, which said the sides “agreed to disagree” at the end of their meetings.

The UN Security Council was set to convene Wednesday to discuss renewing UNDOF’s mandate. The meeting will also address the US recognition following a request by Syria.

A UN peacekeeper from the UNDOF force stands guard on a watch tower at the Quneitra Crossing between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, Friday, March 8, 2013. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

The Channel 13 report came after European Union member states unanimously condemned the US move earlier Wednesday and the five European countries on the UN Security Council blasted the decision on Tuesday.

US Acting Ambassador Jonathan Cohen told a council meeting on the Middle East that Washington had made the decision to stand up to Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iran.

“To allow the Golan Heights to be controlled by the likes of the Syrian and Iranian regimes would turn a blind eye to the atrocities of the Assad regime and malign and destabilizing presence of Iran in the region,” said Cohen.

There “can be no peace agreement that does not satisfactorily address Israel’s security needs in the Golan Heights,” he added.

Trump signed an order on Monday officially recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in a ceremony at the White House attended by Netanyahu, after calling for such a move on Twitter last month.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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