Tillerson Says Trump Remains Committed to Mideast Peace


BRUSSELS — Just hours before President Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, prompting warnings of unrest across the Muslim world, the administration’s top diplomat said on Wednesday that peace in the Middle East was still possible.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, during a news conference at NATO headquarters in the heart of Europe, said that he did not want to pre-empt the president’s official announcement, but expressed reassurances about the expected consequences of the decision.

“The president’s very committed to the Middle East peace process,” Mr. Tillerson said.

Mr. Tillerson has been largely shut out of the usual back-and-forth between Israelis and Palestinians that many secretaries of state spent much of their tenures conducting. Instead, Mr. Trump entrusted that task to his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

In his remarks on Wednesday, Mr. Tillerson was complimentary toward Mr. Kushner’s Middle East peace efforts, which have also been pursued by Jason Greenblatt, an assistant to the president.

“They have done the hard work,” Mr. Tillerson said. “We continue to believe there is a good opportunity to achieve peace.”

But in a chorus of concern, European and Middle Eastern leaders and diplomats said in recent days that the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could have a devastating effect on efforts to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Mr. Trump is recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to fulfill one of his campaign promises, his advisers have said.

Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary who joined Mr. Tillerson at the NATO conference here, said he viewed reports of Mr. Trump’s looming decision “with concern because we think Jerusalem should be part of a final settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, a negotiated final settlement, and we have no plans ourselves to move our embassy.”

Later, he amended those comments as he stood beside Mr. Tillerson before a bilateral meeting, saying the Americans should produce their plans for peace in the Middle East right away.

“We would like to see, as a result of this, the American proposals on the Middle East peace process brought forward,” he said.

Mr. Tillerson also met here with the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, who was far less diplomatic.

“It will be a grave mistake,” Mr. Cavusoglu said of the pending announcement. “It will not bring any stability or peace but rather chaos and instability.”

Mr. Tillerson has been calling leaders from around the world in recent days to alert them to the pending announcement. In brief public remarks on Tuesday beside Mr. Tillerson, Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s top diplomat, warned against the Jerusalem declaration.

“A way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states so that the aspiration of both parties can be fulfilled,” she said.

But in his own comments Wednesday after meeting Mr. Cavusoglu, Mr. Tillerson said diplomats had barely brought up the subject with him.

“We haven’t had a lot of talks about that,” Mr. Tillerson said.



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