'They take billions of [US] dollars... Well, we're watching'

Trump threatens to slash aid to countries backing UN Jerusalem vote

‘Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot,’ says US president ahead of Thursday’s General Assembly session

US President Donald Trump speaks alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, DC, December 20, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)
US President Donald Trump speaks alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, DC, December 20, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday cautioned he could slash funding to countries that support a UN General Assembly resolution on Thursday that seeks to annul the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care,” Trump said at the White House.

Added the president: “People are tired of the United States — people that live here, our great citizens that love this country — they’re tired of this country being taken advantage of, and we’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer.”

On Tuesday, Nikki Haley, Washington’s UN envoy, warned that she would report back to Trump with the names of those countries that support the resolution rejecting the US recognition.

“The president will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those countries who voted against us,” she wrote to UN envoys. “We will take note of each and every vote on this issue.”

The UN General Assembly will hold an emergency session on Thursday to vote on the proposed measure, after the US vetoed a similar resolution for the Security Council.

No country has veto power in the 193-nation General Assembly, contrary to the council, where the United States, along with Britain, China, France and Russia, can block any resolution. An overwhelming majority of UN member states are expected to back the resolution. While Security Council resolutions are binding, however, General Assembly measures are not.

A Security Council diplomat said Canada, Hungary and the Czech Republic might bow to US pressure and not support the resolution.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley voting against a Security Council resolution on Jerusalem on December 18, 2017. (Eskinder Debebe/UN)

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki on Wednesday accused Washington of “threatening” member countries of the UN General Assembly over the vote.

Malki said American officials were “committing another mistake when they have distributed this famous letter trying to threaten countries, (and) threaten their sovereign decision to choose how to vote.”

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki. (Flash90)

He spoke at a press conference with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Istanbul, shortly before both men left for New York.

“This is really a new definition of world order in politics and it seems that the American administration… are putting their stamp on a new political reality that many countries will reject,” Malki said.

Turkey and Yemen requested the urgent General Assembly meeting on behalf of the Arab group of countries and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

The two countries circulated a draft resolution on Tuesday that mirrors the measure that the US vetoed in the Security Council on Monday, reaffirming that any decision on the status of Jerusalem has no legal effect and must be rescinded.

Malki said the UN session would show “how many countries will opt to vote with their conscience.”

“They will vote for justice and they will vote in favor of that resolution that was presented by both Yemen and Turkey on behalf of the Arab group and OIC,” he said.

In an address December 6 from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality. He also said the US embassy would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem but did not give a schedule for the relocation.

Indonesians take part in a protest against US President Donald Trump’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, outside the US embassy in Jakarta, on December 17, 2017. (AFP Photo/Adek Berry)

Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

The announcement was hailed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. It was criticized by many countries, condemned by the Arab world, and infuriated Palestinians, who held violent demonstrations for several days in the West Bank and on the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel.

In a memo to its missions around the world Tuesday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry advised diplomats to encourage their host countries to oppose the resolution at the General Assembly. In the case of countries that are planning to back the resolution, diplomats were urged to encourage their local counterparts to at least refrain from expressing public support for the proposal.

Israeli diplomats were told to emphasize that the resolution is one-sided and will harm prospects for peace by undermining Trump, and may also lead to further violence in the region.

At the Security Council on Monday, the other 14 members of the council voted in favor of the text, condemning the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and calling on countries not to move diplomatic missions to the city.

Haley’s “no” vote was the first US veto in the Security Council since Trump took office nearly a year ago.

Monday’s text expressed “deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem.”

Sponsored by Egypt, it also affirmed that “any decisions and actions which purport to have altered, the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council, and in this regard, calls upon all States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem.”

Without naming any country, it also expressed “deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem.”

Explaining the US veto after the vote, Haley said that the US “will not be told, by any country, where we will put our embassy.”

Referring to the fact that the US once again stood alone in defending Israel, she said. “We do it with no joy, but we do it with no reluctance.”

By vetoing the draft resolution, the US defended “its sovereignty,” she argued.

“What happened today at the Security Council is an insult. It won’t be forgotten,” she said, slamming the council for its obsession with anti-Israel resolutions.

Haley accused some unnamed countries of “trying to distort the president’s decision to serve their own agendas,” and insisted the US position “is fully in line with previous Security Council resolutions.”

Haley noted that the US has given more than $5 billion to the Palestinians since 1994, more than any other country and she said: “The United States has never been more committed to peace in the Middle East.”

Haley said the vote marked “one more example of the United Nations doing more harm than good in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

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