Top officials in the Trump administration opposed the president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital Wednesday and advised Donald Trump not to upset the status quo in the region, CNN has reported.
Senior administration sources told the network that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo all protested the decision in private.
Meanwhile Trump’s peace envoys — Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt and his son-in-law and senior policy adviser Jared Kushner — supported the move but advised him to delay relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem, according to the CNN report. But the White House vigorously disputed this account.
“That’s nonsense and simply not true,” an administration official told The Times of Israel.
Trump said he had instructed officials to begin preparing the move, but also signed a waiver delaying any relocation by at least six more months. The embassy would likely take years to move.
CNN noted that Tillerson was not at Trump’s side when he made his announcement, which ended seven decades of US ambiguity on the status of the disputed city, was warmly welcomed by Israel, and prompted an almost universal diplomatic backlash and fears of new bloodshed in the Middle East.
However, Tillerson did release a statement saying work on moving the embassy would start immediately.
“We have consulted with many friends, partners, and allies in advance of the President making his decision,” he said. “The State Department will immediately begin the process to implement this decision by starting the preparations to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”
He also said the US was gearing up for unrest in response to the decision.
“The safety of Americans is the State Department’s highest priority, and in concert with other federal agencies, we’ve implemented robust security plans to protect the safety of Americans in affected regions,” Tillerson said.
The secretary said in separate statements ahead of the announcement Wednesday that the administration continues to believe there’s “a very good opportunity” to achieve Middle East peace.
Speaking at a NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels, Tillerson said Trump was “very committed” to the peace process, adding that the team led by Kushner was working “very diligently” to achieve it.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said Trump’s actions have ended Washington’s role as a sponsor for Israel-Palestinian peace talks.
Widespread unrest is expected in the Palestinian territories and in East Jerusalem following the announcement, and could potentially spread throughout the region.
Tillerson said the United States had “implemented robust security plans to protect the safety of Americans in affected regions.”
Agencies contributed to this report