Israeli officials: Trump considering ‘interim measures’ to speed up embassy move

After US president rejects prime minister’s assessment of imminent relocation, sources in Prime Minister’s Office insist both leaders are on same page

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and US President Donald Trump shake hands at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and US President Donald Trump shake hands at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday said the US is considering “interim measures” that would allow for its embassy to be moved to Jerusalem within a year, clarifying comments made earlier by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that were subsequently rebuffed by US President Donald Trump.

Netanyahu, on a visit to India, had earlier this week expressed confidence that Trump would quickly fulfill his pledge to relocate the embassy, telling reporters it would happen “much faster than people think, within a year from today.”

But when asked about the prime minister’s comment in an interview with the Reuters news agency, Trump said Netanyahu was mistaken.

“By the end of the year?” he asked. “We’re talking about different scenarios — I mean obviously that would be on a temporary basis. We’re not really looking at that. That’s no.”

In an apparent attempt to minimize the damage, sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said early Thursday that Netanyahu and Trump “are not saying anything different.”

“Of course the construction of a new embassy is something that takes years, but the prime minister believes that the US is considering interim measures that could result in an embassy opening much faster,” according to the Israeli officials.

The US embassy in Tel Aviv, December 6, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Trump promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in a December 6 speech at the White House in which he also formally recognized the city as Israel’s capital.

The move was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Guatemala has since announced it will follow the US in moving its embassy to the city.

The decision sparked protests in some countries and was rejected in a non-binding UN General Assembly resolution. Arab foreign ministers are set to meet on February 1 in Cairo to discuss steps against Trump’s recognition, the Arab League said earlier this month.

Last month, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that relocating the embassy to Jerusalem would likely take at least three years, and quite possibly longer.

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

Trump was nonetheless adamant on Wednesday that the move would eventually go ahead. The US president said it would be “a beautiful embassy but not one that costs $1.2 billion,” referring to the new US embassy in the UK which he has previously criticized for being too expensive.

Last week, Trump said that he was nixing a trip to the UK — initially scheduled for next month — because he was displeased with the location of the new US embassy and its price tag.

“Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for ‘peanuts,’ only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars,” Trump wrote.

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