Sources: US to move embassy to Jerusalem in May

Posted on: February 23rd, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. will move its embassy to Jerusalem in May after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed off on a final plan Thursday, according to two State Department officials.

The move, which will bring the U.S. ambassador and a small number of staff to Jerusalem, comes much earlier than anticipated, after Vice President Mike Pence promised it would happen by the end of 2019.

To move quickly, the new embassy will be in the neighborhood Arnona, where there is the existing U.S. consular building that provides visa services for American citizens.

One Israeli minister suggested the administration could potentially cut the ribbon and open the embassy on May 14 — Israel’s independence day and its 70th anniversary — although, in Israel, it will be celebrated on April 19 in the Hebrew calendar.

Ambassador David Friedman, President Trump’s former lawyer and campaign adviser, will bring a smaller staff to Arona in May, but there is no specific date yet for the opening, according to the two officials.

The Trump administration had previously said the move would be next year. “We anticipate having a small version of it open sometime next year,” Trump said while meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Davos, Switzerland, in January.

In particular, Tillerson, who is the one to sign off on any embassy renovation or move, had concerns about security that would delay the decision.

State Department officials would have to “go over there, they take a look at the buildings, they take a look at the set-backs — the requirements for how far we have to be back from the street — look at different angles, and they make all those assessments. That’s not something that can be done overnight, but we’re engaged in that process now,” a senior State Department official told ABC News on Jan. 25.

Tillerson himself said the embassy move was “probably no earlier than three years out” in December.

But the accelerated timeline is a win for Friedman and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who had pushed for the embassy move before the 2018 congressional elections, according to an administration source.

It’s unclear if the administration will still construct a new facility in Jerusalem — a process that would take years to purchase land, get proper zoning and permits, and build the facility.

But there were some reports that casino magnate and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson had offered to help pay for the new embassy. A State Department official dismissed the report, saying there are no formal discussions or proposals.

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