WASHINGTON — The White House on Wednesday said reports that it is poised to move the US embassy to Jerusalem were “premature,” ahead of a decision deadline.
The White House urged caution after an Israeli TV report suggested a decision would come as soon as Sunday and that the US president would declare that he recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“This is a premature report. We have nothing to announce,” said press secretary Sarah Sanders.
Trump has so far decided not to fulfill his campaign pledge to shift the embassy from Tel Aviv. But the US president faces a December 4 deadline to publicly restate US policy.
Trump shied away from the move in June in order to “maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians,” the White House said at the time.
The decision would delight many Israelis, but dismay Palestinians and raise concerns among Israel’s Arab neighbors.
Trump’s advisors have been divided about the wisdom of a sharp shift away from decades-old policy.
The Hadashot news report suggested the Israeli government considers it extremely likely that Trump will declare in the next few days that he recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and that he is instructing his officials to prepare to move the Embassy to Jerusalem.
The report came a day after US Vice President Mike Pence said Trump was”actively considering” moving the US embassy.
“In Jerusalem, there is a very high expectation” that Trump will declare that he “formally recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and instructing his team to actively prepare to move the embassy,” the Hadashot news report claimed. It said this declaration was expected within days, and possibly as soon as Sunday.
There was no official confirmation of the claim from Israel or the US.
Pence gave the keynote address at an event in New York commemorating the 70th anniversary of the UN vote for partition of Palestine, which led to the creation of the State of Israel.
“President Donald Trump is actively considering when and how to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” the vice president told the gathering of UN ambassadors, diplomats and Jewish leaders, hosted by Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon.
The UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947 passed a resolution adopting a plan on partitioning British-mandated Palestine to establish a Jewish state. Of the 56 members of the UN at the time, 33 voted in favor, 13 against and 10 abstained, enabling the establishment of Israel the following year. In keeping with Jewish tradition, the celebration was held on the eve of the historic date.
“Israel didn’t need a resolution to call for its existence, because its right to exist is self-evident, and timeless,” Pence said. “While Israel was built by human hands, it’s impossible not to see the hand of heaven here, too.”
The US vice president received a standing ovation from the audience at the Queens Museum, site of the original United Nations vote in 1947.
Trump has so far balked at moving the US mission to Israel’s capital, despite initial anticipation among many Israeli and American Jews that he would make good on that election campaign promise.
Right-wing Israeli leaders have been lobbying for the embassy move. Some, however, have reportedly expressed private worries that it could inflame regional tensions. The Palestinians have vociferously objected to the US proposal, citing their claim to East Jerusalem as their future capital.
In early December, Trump will have to again decide whether to postpone the move for another six months.
Congress passed a law in 1995 making it US policy to move the embassy to Jerusalem, symbolically endorsing Israel’s claim on the city as its capital.
But the law contained a clause that has allowed each US president since to issue and renew a six-month waiver on implementing the move. Trump signed the last waiver on June 1.
In the keynote speech, Pence underscored US support for Israel, asserting that ties between the two countries have never been stronger than under the Trump administration.
“As President Trump says, ‘If the world knows nothing else, let them know this: America stands with Israel,'” he said. “Under our administration, America will always stand with Israel.”
Noting recent US steps taken at the UN on behalf of Israel, he declared “the days of Israel-bashing at the United Nations are over.”
Turning his attention to the Iran nuclear deal, Pence said the Trump administration is working to fix “glaring failures” in the agreement that was reached under the previous administration.
“As we speak, our administration is working with Congress to overcome some of the Iran deal’s most glaring problems.”
“Under President Trump, the US will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons,” he vowed. “This is our solemn promise to you, to Israel and to the world.”
The Iran nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and signed between Iran and the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany in 2015, saw stringent sanctions on Iran lifted in return for Tehran dismantling Iranian technologies that could be used to produce nuclear weapons. The deal was strongly opposed by Israel and Trump repeatedly criticized the agreement during his election campaign.
AFP contributed to this report.