The State Department has issued security warnings at scores of U.S. embassies around the world, bracing for protests or violence from President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. At the United Nations, American diplomats are preparing for a meeting Friday called by eight of the 15 Security Council members, including close U.S. allies Britain, Italy and France.
Reaction around the world has been almost universally critical of the decision, which marks a break from decades of U.S. policy.
France, Germany, Italy and Britain have all sharply criticized the decision, saying the status of Jerusalem should be negotiated within the framework of the final stages of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which have been suspended for the past three years.
In Vienna on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended the president’s announcement, saying recognizing Jerusalem is simply a recognition of reality.
“The reality is Israel’s government, its courts, its prime minister’s office is all in Jerusalem today, so it is just an acknowledgment of what is the reality on the ground,” he said.
Critics say that even though Israel’s government treats the city as the country’s capital, the U.S. decision to recognize it preempts peace talks for the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians want an independent country with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Tillerson said the U.S. designation should not affect those negotiations.
“We think that the final status of Jerusalem should be a result of direct negotiations between two parties there, and I think we should do anything possible to avoid further escalation in the region,” he said.
Tillerson sought to reassure those opposed to moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that there would be no hasty action.
“As to the move of the embassy, the president has directed me and the State Department to undertake the process to begin an effort to move the embassy,” he said. “We are not going to be doing that quickly. We have to acquire a site. We have to develop building plans. We’ll have to construct the building. So this is not something that will happen overnight.”
Violent clashes erupted Thursday in the West Bank and Gaza between hundreds of Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops and street protests.
Fearing more violent protests, the State Department took the unusual step of updating a worldwide caution to U.S. citizens abroad:
“As terrorist attacks, political upheaval, and violence often take place without any warning, U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness when traveling.”
The caution said U.S. government facilities worldwide remain in a heightened state of alert, and warned they may temporarily close or suspend public services. The U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan, has temporarily suspended routine public services.
U.S. embassies in countries across the world issued similar security warnings.
The U.S. has asked Israeli officials, who have heartily welcomed the decision as historic, to moderate their public reactions. A senior aide to Tillerson, R.C. Hammond, said Tillerson had asked the president to allow for time for the State Department to prepare before an announcement on Jerusalem was made, adding safety is always a top consideration.
That tweet led to this Twitter exchange between Hammond and former Obama administration State Department spokesperson John Kirby, who said the U.S. usually has to boost its embassy security in response to what other countries are doing and deciding, and not due to a White House announcement: