Stirring controversy, Pompeo to address Republican convention from Jerusalem

Breaking decades of precedence, America’s top diplomat to speak at political event, drawing criticism from Democrats and former State Department officials

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on March 21, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on March 21, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will address the Republican National Convention Tuesday from an “undisclosed location” in Jerusalem, officials said Sunday, in a move that breaks decades of precedence in not using the office for partisan purposes.

Pompeo will speak to the virtual confab while he’s on an official trip to the Middle East to push for broader Arab-Israeli rapprochement after Israel and the United Arab Emirates struck an agreement to fully normalize relations.

In the past, America’s top diplomats have avoided political events, such as the national conventions, for fear of using their office for partisan gain.

Former US president Barack Obama’s secretary of state John Kerry, for instance, sat out the 2016 Democratic convention. And when Obama was officially nominated for a second term in 2012, Hillary Clinton was literally half a world away, traveling to the Cook Islands, Indonesia, China, East Timor, Brunei and far eastern Russia.

It’s not just Democrats. When Republicans nominated John McCain in 2008, then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was on a trip to Portugal, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Former US president George W. Bush’s first secretary of state, Colin Powell, likewise did not speak to the 2004 Republican National Convention.

The decision was immediately criticized by Democrats and former State Department officials.

Obama’s deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman called it “unprecedented and wrong.”

File: Wendy Sherman in Jerusalem, February 2014. (YouTube/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

“At a time when peace and security in Middle East is so tough, Jerusalem should not be a prop for the RNC, and [Mike Pompeo] should not be tarnishing the office of [secretary of state],” she tweeted.

News of the secretary speech, slated for Tuesday night, was first reported by Axios.

On Sunday, Pompeo tweeted: “Looking forward to sharing with you how my family is more SAFE and more SECURE because of President Trump. See you all on Tuesday night!”

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel defended Pompeo’s appearance during a CBS interview Sunday, saying party would be paying for all the convention costs.

She said it was “appropriate” for Pompeo to deliver a speech at the gathering. “The programming, the staging, everything that we’re doing will be paid for by the Republican National Committee and the campaign,” she said, adding that Republicans are “not using taxpayer dollars to pay for our convention.”

According to a report by the McClatchy News Service, Pompeo’s speech was reviewed by four teams of lawyers.

“His lawyer, the State Department lawyers, RNC lawyers, White House lawyers have all worked on his appearance to make sure it is completely lawful and appropriate, including screening and approving all of his remarks,” a source told the wire service. “They have all signed off on this.”

The report also said the speech was concerning to Israeli officials, who expressed worry that it could exacerbate an already growing divide on Israel in the United States.

Jerusalem is the site of one of US President Donald Trump’s most controversial foreign policy decisions. In December 2017, he announced that he would formally recognize the city as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.

The decision alienated the administration from the Palestinian leadership, which has since refused to engage with Washington. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said it meant the White House could no longer act as an honest mediator in peace talks.

In this March 21, 2019 file photo, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman stand next to the dedication plaque at the US Embassy in Jerusalem. (Jim Young/Pool photo via AP, File)

Speaking from Jerusalem, however, is likely to appeal to evangelical Christian supporters.

On Monday, Trump told his supporters that moving the embassy was done for evangelical Christians.

“And we moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem,” Trump said at a rally held at an airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, apparently referring to his decision to move the facility from Tel Aviv. “That’s for the evangelicals.”

Jerusalem has been Israel’s declared capital since its founding in 1948, although much of the international community does not recognize it as such; under the initial UN Partition Plan, Jerusalem was identified as an international city.

“You know, it’s amazing with that — the evangelicals are more excited by that than Jewish people,” he said to cheers from the crowd. “That’s right, it’s incredible.”

Agencies contributed to this report

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