With Romanian PM powerless, celebration over embassy move premature

With Romanian PM powerless, celebration over embassy move premature

Despite promise by Viorica Dăncilă to AIPAC on Sunday, it is President Klaus Iohannis who has the final word on relocating mission, and he has not been shy about his opposition

Raphael Ahren

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă speaks at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC, on March 24, 2019. (Screen capture/AIPAC)
Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă speaks at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC, on March 24, 2019. (Screen capture/AIPAC)

WASHINGTON —  Romanian Prime Minister’s Viorica Dăncilă surprising announcement Sunday that her country would relocate its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was immediately celebrated by supporters of such a move at home and abroad.

Eduardo Bolsonaro, the son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, for instance, congratulated the Central European country for the step, which Dancila announced at the opening session of the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC, on Sunday. Bolsonaro’s father has long spoken of moving his country’s own embassy to Jerusalem.

Curiously, however, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem did not initially issue a statement about the matter. “We would be very happy to see the Romanian embassy in Jerusalem,” Israeli diplomatic sources merely said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Several hours after the statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered a measured tweet to “congratulate my friend” Dăncilă, for saying that “that she would act to complete the procedures needed to open the Romanian embassy in Jerusalem.”

Netanyahu’s restrained response underlines the fact that at this point, it seems clear Dancila cannot deliver on her promise. In Romania, it is the president, and not the prime minister, who has the last word on the status of foreign missions, which indicated she (re-)issued a check Israel cannot cash.

Her announcement certainly made it seem as if the embassy move was a done deal.

“As we know, President Donald Trump opened the US Embassy in Jerusalem. This admirable and courageous step impressed me, my government and the Romanian people,” she said. “This gesture also launched an international reflection process. The government of Romania has since started a process of assessing the opportunity to move the Romanian Embassy to Jerusalem.”

“That is why I am pleased to announce today to the AIPAC audience that after the conclusion of the analysis by all the constitutional actors involved in the decision-making process in my country and, in full consensus, I, as the prime minister of Romania and the government that I lead the move of the Romanian Embassy to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.”

But President Klaus Iohannis has been unequivocal in his opposition to moving the embassy. And he was withering in his response to her speech on Sunday: “The prime minister shows complete ignorance regarding foreign affairs,” said Iohannis.

According to Romanian law, it is exclusively his prerogative to “approve the setting up, closing down, or change in rank of diplomatic missions.”

In April 2018, after Dăncilă first announced her intention to move the embassy to Jerusalem, Iohannis issued a lengthy statement that reaffirms that Bucharest’s position on the status of Jerusalem “remains in line with the one established by the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly.”

If anything, the prime minister’s initiative could “may possibly, at most, represent the beginning of an evaluation process on the matter, which can only be completed when the negotiations on the Middle East Peace Process have been concluded, since the status of Jerusalem is a central theme of it,” he declared at the time. “This status cannot be established until a direct and final agreement between the parties has been concluded.”

Reiterating that, “from the constitutional point of view,” the power to direct such a move rests with him, the president underlined that “relocating the Romanian Embassy to Jerusalem would represent a violation of the relevant international law.”

Romania’s President Klaus Werner Iohannis addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters, New York, September 26, 2018. (Richard Drew/AP)

A few weeks later, he expressed concerns that a unilateral move of the embassy would negatively impact Romania’s international standing, and reiterated that the decision “is not up to the government.”

In his statement on Sunday afternoon, Iohannis said no decision had been made regarding Jerusalem, and noted that his own personal views on the matter are known.

The embassy could only be moved once Romania’s “analysis” is completed, and only if all national institutions dealing with foreign policy and national security recommend it, he went on. And his office has not received a copy of the government’s analysis.

Reached on Sunday by telephone, an employee of the Romanian Embassy told The Times of Israel that he had no comment on the matter.

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