PARIS/BRUSSELS: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Friday that the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem would probably not take place for at least two years.
“This is not something that is going to happen this year or probably not next year, but the president does want us to move in a very concrete and steadfast way to ensure the embassy is located in Jerusalem when we’re able to do so, at the earliest possible time,” Tillerson said after talks in Paris with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Listing the steps involved in moving the embassy from Tel Aviv, Tillerson said the US needed to acquire a site, develop plans, receive congressional authorization for the spending “and then actually building the embassy.”
He reiterated that the move was not intended to prejudge the outcome of future peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
“The president in his statement ... did not indicate any final status for Jerusalem. In fact he was I think very clear that the final status, including the borders, would be left to the parties to negotiate and decide,” he added.
His remarks came as the fallout from President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — renouncing nearly seven decades of US foreign policy — continued to reverberate, with Palestinians staging a “day of rage.”
Tillerson also met President Emmanuel Macron, who has joined a host of world leaders in condemning the move.
France said on Friday the US had sidelined itself in the Middle East by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but the EU’s top diplomat insisted Washington remains a mediator as Europe struggled for unity in its diplomacy.
The decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem revived old tensions between EU governments that want to see peace in the Middle East but have varying degrees of sympathy toward Israel and the Palestinians.
“I hear some, including Mr. Tillerson, say things will happen in time and the hour is for negotiations. Until now (the US) could have had a mediation role in this conflict, but it has excluded itself a little,” the French foreign minister said, referring to Tillerson, who is in Paris for talks after visiting Brussels and Vienna.
“The reality is they are alone and isolated on this issue,” he told France Inter radio.
With Britain distracted by its planned exit from the EU, France is trying to lead Europe in Middle East negotiations, organizing a peace conference last January.
But it is EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini who represents the bloc in the Middle East Quartet of the US, UN, the EU and Russia.
On Thursday, Mogherini pledged to reinvigorate diplomacy with Russia, the US, Jordan and others to ensure Palestinians have a capital in Jerusalem too. She said Washington was still a pivotal peacemaker.
But Hungary blocked a statement planned by all EU 28 governments in response to Trump’s announcement of Wednesday, leaving it to Mogherini to deliver a rejection of it.
On Wednesday evening, the Czech Foreign Ministry said it would begin considering moving the Czech Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “only based on results of negotiations with key partners in the region and in the world.” Many in Israel saw the Czech ministry’s statement as an endorsement of Trump’s move.
But Mogherini said on Friday Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek had reassured her the statement was “definitely not an act of support for the US administration’s decision.”
“He guaranteed to me that the Czech Republic stays firmly with the common European consolidated position,” Mogherini told a news conference with Jordan’s foreign minister.
Prague accepts Israel’s sovereignty only over West Jerusalem, diplomats say. Palestinians want the capital of a future state they seek to be in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed in a move not recognized internationally.
Meeting with Israeli PM
Mogherini stressed that all EU governments were united on the issue of Jerusalem and in seeking a solution envisaging a Palestinian state in territory — the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem — that Israel took 50 years ago.
The EU believes it has a duty to make its voice heard as the Palestinians’ biggest aid donor and Israel’s biggest trade partner, but policy divisions within the bloc have weakened its influence.
EU foreign ministers will aim to present a unified front to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a meeting in Brussels on Monday. A senior French diplomat said it was crucial that EU governments had a clear message for the Israeli premier.
“What we are going to try and do is convince our European partners when we meet Netanyahu ...to tell him that what is happening with the United States is a serious issue for him, Israel and any peace prospect,” the diplomat said.
EU governments have a range of positions, from the Czech Republic’s strong support for Israel, also shared by Germany, to Sweden’s 2014 decision to recognize a future state of Palestine.
The EU is also perceived by some in Israel as being too pro-Palestinian, partly because of the EU’s long-held opposition to Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.