WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump denied on Wednesday that the planned relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem would take place within a year, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he expected the controversial move to happen by then.
Reversing decades of U.S. policy, Trump in early December recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and set in motion the process of moving the embassy from Tel Aviv, imperilling Middle East peace efforts and upsetting the Arab world and Western allies alike.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last month the embassy move was “probably no earlier than three years out, and that’s pretty ambitious,” a timeframe that administration officials have attributed to the logistics of finding and securing a site as well as arranging housing for diplomats.
Jerusalem is home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and annexed in a move not recognised internationally, as the capital of their future state.
Netanyahu, according to Israeli reporters travelling with him on a trip to India, said on Wednesday: “My solid assessment is that it will go much faster than you think - within a year from now.”
Asked about Netanyahu’s comment, Trump told Reuters in an interview that was not the case. “By the end of the year? We’re talking about different scenarios - I mean obviously that would be on a temporary basis. We’re not really looking at that. That’s no.”
Trump – whose decision on the embassy move fulfilled a campaign pledge - promised, however, that it would be a “a beautiful embassy but not one that costs $1.2 billion,” referring to what he says was the cost of the new U.S. embassy in London.
Trump last week cancelled a trip to London to open the new diplomatic mission, blaming his White House predecessor Barack Obama for selling off the old one for “peanuts” in a bad deal.
He acknowledged that the embassy move in Britain was agreed under former President George W. Bush but said it was built under Obama and “came out tremendously over budget.”
Reporting By Jeff Mason, Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton; Writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Alistair Bell