WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump on Thursday thanked the president of Guatemala for supporting the US decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the White House said.
Trump and President Jimmy Morales met at the Washington Hilton hotel before they attended the annual National Prayer Breakfast. Journalists were not permitted to see the leaders meet.
The leaders discussed Venezuela and agreed to work on restoring democracy to the country, according to a White House statement issued after the meeting.
Trump also raised the issue of stopping illegal immigration to the US from Guatemala, and addressing the Central American country’s security and economic challenges.
Morales announced on December 24 he had recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and intended to relocate Guatemala’s embassy to Jerusalem, making his country the first to follow the US after Trump made the same announcement on December 6.
In a Facebook post about the embassy move, Morales said that he had instructed his country’s chancellor “to initiate the respective coordination so that it may be.” The decision followed a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the time.
The announcement was made in front of an image of Guatemalan and Israeli flags fluttering side by side in the wind. The leaders, Morales said, spoke about “the excellent relations that we have had as nations since Guatemala supported the creation of the State of Israel” at the 1947 UN partition vote.
Days before, the UN General Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution rejecting any recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in response to Trump’s pronouncement.
Guatemala was one of just nine nations that explicitly sided with the US in the vote.
Guatemala has had very friendly ties with Israel since its founding. In 1947, Guatemala’s ambassador to the UN, Jorge Garcia Granados, played a crucial role in convincing Latin American countries to vote in favor of General Assembly Resolution 181, which called for the partition of Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state.
Guatemala was one of the first countries to recognize the nascent State of Israel in 1948, and the friendship has remained strong ever since.
Morales, who enjoys a large base of conservative Christian support, visited Israel in November 2016 to mark the 69th anniversary of the UN’s partition vote. Shortly after his election in 2015, Morales visited a synagogue in Guatemala City, met with members of the Jewish community, and declared his desire to visit Israel.
Guatemala is home to about 1,000 Jews out of a population of 15 million.