5 Min Read
(Adds details on arms deal, extremism)
By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON, May 17 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump will not use his upcoming trip to Israel to announce plans to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, although he still ultimately wants to take that step, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.
The official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the Trump administration does not want to complicate attempts to resume the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by announcing the embassy move.
Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital and wants all foreign countries to base their embassies there. The relocation is strongly opposed by many U.S. allies given that Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their capital.
The trip is Trump's first outing abroad as president and it will include the announcement of a U.S. arms deal with Saudi Arabia, Saudi investment in U.S. infrastructure and the establishment of a center to combat Islamic extremism in Riyadh, the official said.
Since taking office in January, Trump has shown signs of shelving his campaign pledge to move the embassy from Tel Aviv, while vowing to do what is necessary to clinch a Middle East peace agreement.
The senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Trump remains committed to his campaign pledge to ultimately relocate the U.S. embassy but does not plan to announce such a move while on his trip.
"We're having very good discussions with all parties and as long as we see that happening, then we don’t intend to do anything that we think could upset those discussions," the official said.
Since both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have expressed interest in returning to the negotiating table, "we don't think it’s the right time to do it right now," the official said. "But we’ll re-evaluate it down the road."
A three-way meeting between Trump, Netanyahu and Abbas is not expected during the trip.
During a trip to Saudi Arabia that begins with his arrival in Riyadh on Saturday, Trump will express support for forming a NATO-like force for the Middle East, backed by Gulf states, the official said.
Saudi Arabia has in the past proposed a stronger union with Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, but it has yet to come to fruition. Forming a joint Gulf country military alliance has been discussed for many years in the region. The idea of a joint military command center was first announced in 2012.
Despite the similarities of the Gulf monarchies, they have diverging regional outlooks, economies and political systems. Past attempts at establishing regional missile defenses have stumbled due to strains within the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.
An arms deal is to be announced during Trump's trip in which Saudi Arabia will purchase $100 billion in U.S. arms, the official said. The deal could lead to purchases of $300 billion over 10 years and could reach $350 billion to help Riyadh counter Iran in the region, the official said.
Saudi Arabia also is expected to invest $40 billion in American infrastructure as part of the package, the official said.
Trump and the Gulf allies will launch a center for countering extremism that will aim to fight the long-term ideological battle to counter extremism and promote moderate Islam, the official said.
Critics of the Saudi kingdom say the government does not do enough to prevent the teachings of some of its ultra-conservative clergy from fanning militancy overseas as well as a domestic security threat at home. The senior clergy have denounced militant Islamic doctrines, such as those of al Qaeda or Islamic State, but still preach intolerant views.
An effort is being made to get the states to agree to outlaw funding for extremist organizations, the official said.
Human rights will not take center stage at his meetings. The official said Trump preferred to keep such conversations private, much as he did with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi recently when he obtained the release of an Egyptian-American humanitarian worker, the official said.
While at the Group of Seven summit in Sicily later in the month, Trump will hear out European leaders concerned that he might withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, the official said.
The official said Trump still feels the accord is a bad deal for the American economy. (Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Bill Trott and Yara Bayoumy)