LAS VEGAS (JTA) — Vice President Mike Pence pledged to Jewish Republicans that the Trump administration would “never allow” Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, but walked back President Donald Trump’s promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
“We told the ayatollahs of Iran they should check the calendar, there’s a new president in the Oval Office,” Pence said Friday addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership conference during Shabbat dinner.
“President Trump will never allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, this is my solemn promise to you,” he said, to a standing ovation in the ballroom of the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, owned by Sheldon Adelson, a major backer of Republicans and pro-Israel causes.
Jewish Republicans, as well as Israel’s leadership and much of the centrist pro-Israel community, reviled the nuclear deal reached by the Obama administration with Iran which swapped sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. Former president Barack Obama, who also had pledged to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, had said that the deal was the best means of doing so.
Pence, notably, did not say the Trump administration would kill the deal, however. Trump’s top aides have said that increasing enforcement of the deal is the better option at this stage.
Pence also substantially walked back Trump’s campaign pledge to move the embassy to Jerusalem, saying the administration was “assessing whether the embassy should be moved,” to tepid applause.
Trump himself has walked back his embassy pledge since he assumed office last month, but sending Pence, who for years has been intimately close to the pro-Israel community, to deliver the message to a fiercely pro-Israel audience seemed to put an end to hopes that any move would happen soon, if at all.
Pence also once again reassured the group to “rest assured” that the Trump administration would combat anti-Semitism. Jewish groups – including some, like the RJC, that have supported Trump – have been alarmed at the perceived insensitivity in the administration to sensibilities about attacks on Jews, particularly in the wake of a spike in bomb threats called into Jewish community centers.
Pence assured the RJC that he and Trump would work tirelessly on foreign and domestic issues important to the group, such as enacting business-friendly policies at home and supporting Israel abroad.
“If the world knows nothing else, the world will know this: America stands with Israel,” Pence said.
The group of Republican donors and Jewish leaders was among the first to hear from the new vice president. Former Vice President Dick Cheney introduced Pence. The roughly 500 attendees also were set to hear from Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina .
Pence told the RJC that America’s bonds with Israel had already grown stronger under the young administration.
He shared stories from his trip to Germany last weekend — his first abroad as vice president. He’d paid a visit to the former Dachau concentration camp, where thousands of Austrian and German Jews were among those imprisoned and killed. He was joined on the tour by a survivor of the Holocaust who was at Dachau when it was liberated by American soldiers at the end of World War II.
Pence also talked about how this week he had made a surprise visit to a Jewish cemetery in Missouri where more than 150 gravestones had been toppled and vandalized.
“Let me be clear, we condemn these vile acts of vandalism and those perpetrated them in the strongest possible terms,” he said. “Hatred and antisemitism have no place in the United States of America.”
In Las Vegas, the vice president effusively praised the Adelsons from the stage, saying that they “in so many ways have given America a second chance” through their political work in the US and Israel. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, gave more than $20 million to a pro-Trump super PAC, making them among Trump’s most generous benefactors, campaign records show.
“Rest assured we’re going to keep our end of the bargain, too,” Pence said, thanking the Adelsons and RJC for “steadfast support” throughout the campaign.
AP contributed to this report.