Uruguay to open diplomatic office in Jerusalem, foreign minister announces

Hours after declaring Paraguay will reopen embassy in Jerusalem, Eli Cohen meets with Uruguayan leaders and says their new innovation office in capital will advance economic ties

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen meets with Uruguay's President Luis Lacalle Pou (R) in Montevideo, August 16, 2023. (Foreign Ministry)
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen meets with Uruguay's President Luis Lacalle Pou (R) in Montevideo, August 16, 2023. (Foreign Ministry)

Uruguay will open a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen announced Wednesday during his visit to the South American country.

The mission will not be an embassy, rather an office aimed at boosting cooperation “in the innovation arena,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. There was no immediate confirmation from Uruguay and no details were given by Israel regarding when the mission will open.

The announcement came after Cohen met in Montevideo with his Uruguayan counterpart Francisco Bustillo and President Luis Lacalle Pou. Cohen said he invited Lacalle Pou to Jerusalem to inaugurate the new office.

“We’re continuing to strengthen the international status of Israel’s capital. Uruguay is one of Israel’s most important friends in Latin America, and the president’s decision to open an innovation office in Jerusalem will advance economic and trade ties between us,” Cohen said in a statement.

The move did not appear to mark a shift in Uruguay’s stance on Jerusalem where it maintained an embassy until 1980 when it moved the mission out of the capital to Herzliya north of Tel Aviv. That move came shortly after Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem in defiance of much of the international community, which says the final borders of the city should be decided in negotiations with the Palestinians.

In 2017, former US president Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the next year moved the US embassy to the city in what Israel hoped would lead to a flood of countries to follow suit. While the US has since been followed by Guatemala, Honduras and Kosovo, such a groundswell has yet to materialize.

Trump’s decision was criticized by Uruguay’s then-leftist government, which summoned Israel’s ambassador to Montevideo after the latter criticized Uruguay’s foreign minister for calling Tel Aviv the Jewish state’s capital.

From left to right: Israel Ambassador to Paraguay Yoed Magen, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, Paraguay President Santiago Peña and First Lady Leticia Ocampos

Before arriving in Uruguay on Wednesday, Cohen visited Paraguay, which he announced would reopen its embassy in Jerusalem, ostensibly bringing an end to a rift sparked five years earlier. Israel will also reopen its embassy in Asunción.

Cohen attend the swearing-in of Paraguay’s new president Santiago Peña, whose country would become the fifth with an embassy in Jerusalem if he follows through on his campaign pledge.

In 2018, Paraguay’s outgoing president Horacio Cartes announced that his country would open an embassy in Jerusalem, following similar moves by the US and Guatemala.

But the embassy was moved back to Tel Aviv after just five months by Cartes’s successor Abdo Benitez, who said he hadn’t been consulted in the original decision and indicated that it harmed efforts to maintain a more neutral approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fumed at the decision and moved to have Israel’s embassy in Asunción closed in retaliation.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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