Mattis, Tillerson warned Trump of security concerns in Israel embassy move
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis were reportedly both opposed to President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem due to security concerns, according to multiple news outlets.
Mattis and Tillerson both expressed to Trump that moving the embassy would endanger American diplomats and troops stationed in the Middle East and Muslim countries, The Associated Press reported.
Reuters also reported that Tillerson and Mattis opposed the move from Tel Aviv, citing U.S. officials.
Trump made the announcement Wednesday that the United States officially recognizes Jerusalem as the “political capital” of Israel and directed the State Department to begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy there.
The move will not come for several more years but the announcement is expected to ignite protests across Israel and the larger Middle East.
Tillerson, in a statement released after the announcement, said that the safety of Americans is the State Department’s highest priority, and it had “implemented robust security plans to protect the safety of Americans in affected regions,” prior to Trump’s decision.
He added that the State Department had “consulted with many friends, partners, and allies in advance of the President making his decision.”
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Tuesday told reporters that Tillerson had “made his positions clear to the White House,” on moving Israel’s U.S. embassy, but would not say whether the secretary agreed with Trump’s decision.
Mattis also dodged questions from reporters Tuesday while returning from a trip to the Middle East and Africa.
The retired four-star general said he met with Trump “late last week” over the matter and the two had an “open discussion” that “went on for some time.”
“I gave to the president what I thought. You have to look at the world in different parts and pieces too. So, as you do that, you have to have a lot of information. I collected the information. I made my recommendation, and I’ll just leave it that,” Mattis said while on a plane from Kuwait to Washington.
The U.S. government acknowledged dangers for Americans abroad ahead of Wednesday’s announcement with warnings to its workers and citizens.
The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem on Tuesday ordered government workers in Israel to limit movement in the city to “essential travel and with additional security measures,” due to “widespread calls for demonstrations beginning Dec. 6 in Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
And following Trump’s declaration, the U.S. Embassy in Jordan issued a temporary suspension of routine public services for U.S. government personnel and their families, citing possible demonstrations.
Trump’s announcement “may spark protests, some of which have the potential to become violent,” the embassy said in a statement.
“Americans in Jordan are encouraged to maintain a low profile and to remain alert to developments.”
Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Robert Manning said Wednesday that Mattis is confident that all U.S. embassies are adequately protected and that U.S. forces will be safe in the event of a backlash.
When asked by reporters if the Defense Department had taken extra steps to further protect specific embassies in the Middle East ahead of anticipated protests, Manning would not say.
“Our embassies are protected for any situation, including the potential or in the advent something occurs here,” Manning said.
Manning also declined to “talk matters of intelligence or exactly how we are posturing forces,” and said he was not aware of any requests from the White House to increase security measures around the embassies in the region.