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Trump's Jerusalem Announcement; Trump Keeps Campaign Promise; U.S. Recognizes Jerusalem as Capital. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 6, 2017 - 13:00   ET


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We expect the president to start speaking right around 1:00. He'll be entering the diplomatic room here at the White House with the portrait of George Washington over his shoulder. There will be a table in the room.

We expect the president to sign a waiver that will keep the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv for a period of years. They can't move the embassy to Jerusalem right away. It'll take a few years for that project to be completed.

But no -- make no mistake, Wolf, this is upending and changing decades of U.S. foreign policy precedence in this country, in that the president is about to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Of course, it is something that he said he would do during the campaign. So, he's making good on a campaign promise.

But, as you mentioned, it does threaten to blow up the Middle East peace process, because so many Palestinians recognize east Jerusalem as the capital of what they hope to be as a future state of Palestine for the Palestinian people.

And asked about this just a little while ago. The president was meeting with his cabinet earlier today. And he was asked whether or not this will affect the Middle East peace process, whether he's committed to a peace plan. He said he will talk about that here in just a few moments.

But, undoubtedly, when you look around the world, Wolf, from the pope to the Palestinians and just about every U.S. ally in between, there are grave concerns about what the president is about to do here.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There certainly are. We're going to stand by. And, momentarily, we'll hear directly from the president over there at the White House.

Jim Acosta, thanks. We'll get back to you.

Meanwhile, Trump administration officials admit it could take years to complete the embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Let's go to our CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson. He's joining us from Jerusalem right now. Regardless of how long it takes, Nic, this is certainly a monumental decision. So, what's at stake and how is this decision being received in the region?

NIC ROBERTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, Israel Katz, the minister of transport here in Israel, today described this as an historic day. He said that any country that doesn't recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel doesn't, therefore, recognize the state of Israel.

Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, stood where I'm standing just a couple of hours ago, welcoming this decision by President Trump on the wall behind me, the Jaffa gate on the old -- around the city walls, the old city of Jerusalem. That was projected the Israeli and U.S. flag side by side together.

So, on -- for Israelis, this is a -- by and large, a very welcome decision. But for Palestinian negotiators -- Hanan Ashrawi earlier saying that Trump is putting himself and the United States in an impossible position as a potential negotiator in between Palestinians and Israelis for the peace process going forward. That this damages the United States' credibility.

And the concern being here that if -- about the nuance and detail of what President Trump says. The concern, of course, from the Palestinian side, if President Trump were to mention -- we don't know that, but this is what people will be listening for. A united Jerusalem as being the capital of Israel, then that will send a very, very negative message to Palestinian leaders.

Hamas have said that President Trump is crossing a red line. So, people will be listening to how he articulates his vision, if he does, for how the peace process may move forward.

So, right now, the streets here have been very quiet. Anticipation here and concern about this three days of rage that various different Palestinian organizations have said they expect to come after this announcement.

BLITZER: Yes, it's just after 8:00 p.m. in Jerusalem right now, so soon everybody is going to be watching, listening precisely to President Trump's words.

Nic Robertson, we'll get back to you. Thank you.

A number of U.S. allies clearly have already weighed in, urging the Trump administration to reconsider, even at this late moment. Even the pope expressed profound concern.

Let's go to our Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour. She's joining us live from London. Christiane, so what kind of language will you be listening for?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is precisely the question. We really do have to listen for the language. We really do have to very closely pay attention to exactly how the

president frames whatever he's going to say about Jerusalem. Whether he bends towards you know, outcry recognizing it as the only capital and only for Israel or whether there's a fudge as does exist in some other countries declarations, for instance Russia.

We also have to listen to whether he says anything about his commitment, U.S. commitment to a two-state solution. We have to listen for, as I say, the language.

Because here's the thing, we've heard floated, for a while now, certainly the last few days, that the administration has a peace plan. The Jared Kushner peace plan that we've been hearing about.

Now, while they've announced it, they haven't detailed it. And it has not gone on the table.

So, people are concerned. Analysts, people who've been doing this kind of diplomacy in the past, that if they then put this peace plan on the table, having recognized Israel, if he does, as the sole inheritor of Jerusalem as the capital, then that peace plan would be still born.

[13:05:15] Then we have to ask our question, can any Arab leader continue with any U.S. peace plan if the parameters are changed in what we expect to hear from President Trump? Can they do it even if they want to do it? Will their streets allow it?

So, these are the diplomatic questions that we're going to wait to see whether they get answered from the White House there and from the region.

BLITZER: I assume it's surprised a lot of leaders in the region right now, the timing of the president's announcement. And very quickly, give us your thoughts on that, Christiane. He's about to walk into that room.

AMANPOUR: Hard to say about the timing. People are asking why? Why now with all these crises in the rest of the world? Why throw another very volatile region into potential turmoil?

And, as you know, Jerusalem is the most sensitive peace of real estate in the world. Politically, religiously, ideologically, it is the most sensitive place in the world.

So, the real big question is why? We do know that there was a deadline for this waiver on the embassy question. And that actually passed, I believe, on Monday. The president apparently is going to sign that waiver.

So, that is a question we're obviously going to be asking, the American officials once we hear what this announcement will be.

But, again, what does it mean? Is a two-state solution over? The president says he wants to forge the deal of the century. He said that shortly after his inauguration. His first visit was to Saudi Arabia. His second visit was to Israel.

So, you know, there's a lot going on in that region. The question is how we're going to get from here to there.

BLITZER: Christiane, I want you to stand by. The president's about to make his very important, indeed historic, statement on the future of the U.S. attitude, the U.S. position on Jerusalem. He's to walk into the room. He is walking in right now with the vice president.


When I came into office, I promised to look at the world's challenges with open eyes and very fresh thinking. We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past. All challenges demand new approaches.

My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

In 1995, Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act, urging the federal government to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem and to recognize that that city, and so importantly, is Israel's capital. This act passed Congress by an overwhelming bipartisan majority. And was reaffirmed by unanimous vote of the Senate only six months ago.

Yet, for over 20 years, every previous American president has exercised the law's waiver, refusing to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, or to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital city.

Presidents issued these waivers under the belief that delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace. Some say they lacked courage, but they made their best judgments, based on facts as they understood them at the time.

Nevertheless, the record is in. After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.

Therefore, I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.

I've judge this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a long overdue step to advance the peace process. And to work towards a lasting agreement.

[13:10:07] Israel is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital, acknowledging this is a fact -- is a necessary condition for achieving peace.

It was 70 years ago, that the United States, under President Truman, recognized the state of Israel. Ever since then, Israel has made its capital in the city of Jerusalem. The capital the Jewish people established in ancient times.

Today, Jerusalem is the seat of the modern Israeli government. It is the home of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, as well as the Israeli Supreme Court. It is the location of the official residence of the prime minister and the president. It is the headquarters of many government ministries.

For decades, visiting American presidents, secretaries of state and military leaders have met their Israeli counterparts in Jerusalem, as I did on my trip to Israel earlier this year.

Jerusalem is not just the heart of three great religions. But it is now also the heart of one of the most successful democracies in the world.

Over the past seven decades, the Israeli people have built a country where Jews, Muslims and Christians, and people of all faiths, are free to live and worship according to their conscience and according to their beliefs.

Jerusalem is, today, and must remain a place where Jews pray at the western wall, where Christians walk the stations of the cross, and where Muslims worship at Al Aqsa mosque. However, through all of these years, presidents representing the United States have declined to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. In fact, we have declined to acknowledge any Israeli capital at all.

But today, we finally acknowledge the obvious, that Jerusalem is Israel's capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It's something that has to be done.

That is why, consistent with the Jerusalem Embassy Act, I am also directing the State Department to begin preparation to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This will immediately begin the process of hiring architects, engineers and planners so that a new embassy, when completed, will be a magnificent tribute to peace.

In making these announcements, I also want to make one point very clear. This decision is not intended, in any way, to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement. We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians.

We are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved.

The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides. I intend to do everything in my power to help forge such an agreement.

Without question, Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive issues in those talks. The United States would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides. In the meantime, I call on all parties to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem's holy sites, including the temple mount, also known as Haram al Sharif.

[13:15:02] Above all, our greatest hope is for peace. The universal yearning in every human soul. With today's action, I reaffirm my administration's long-standing commitment to a future of peace and security for the region. There will, of course, be disagreement and dissent regarding this announcement. But we are confident that ultimately, as we work through these disagreements, we will arrive at a peace and a place far greater in understanding and cooperation.

This sacred city should call forth the best in humanity. Lifting our sights to what it is possible, not pulling us back and down to the old fights that have become so totally predictable. Peace is never beyond the grasp of those willing to reach it.

So today we call for calm, for moderation, and for the voices of tolerance to prevail over the purveyors of hate. Our children should inherit our love, not our conflicts. I repeat, the message I delivered at the historic and extraordinary summit in Saudi Arabia earlier this year, the Middle East is a region rich with culture, spirit, and history. Its people are brilliant, proud and diverse, vibrant and strong. But the incredible future awaiting this region is held at bay by bloodshed, ignorance and terror.

Vice President Pence will travel to the region in the coming days to reaffirm our commitment to work with partners throughout the Middle East to defeat radicalism that threatens the hopes and dreams of future generations.

It is time for the many who desire peace to expel the extremists from their midst. It is time for all civilized nations and people to respond to disagreement with reasoned debate, not violence. And it is time for young and moderate voices all across the Middle East to claim for themselves a bright and beautiful future. So today, let us rededicate ourselves to a path of mutual understanding and respect. Let us rethink old assumptions and open our hearts and minds to possible and possibilities.

And finally, I ask the leaders of the region, political and religious, Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish and Christian and Muslim, to join us in the noble quest for lasting peace.

Thank you. God bless you. God bless Israel. God bless the Palestinians. And God bless the United States.

Thank you very much. Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, so the president of the United States delivering an historic speech. He is now about to sign this document reaffirming what he just said, namely that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and that the United States will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as well.

This is an historic moment. First time since this rule (ph) was established in 1948 that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as its capital. First time that the United States will have an embassy in Jerusalem. It currently has a consulate in west Jerusalem. No embassy. In fact, the U.S., once this promise by the president is delivered, will be the only country in the world with an actual embassy in Jerusalem.

Let's listen to see if he answers any shouted questions.

Well, no shouted questions. The president and the vice president walk out.

Let's get some reaction. We've got an excellent panel here with us.

And, Gloria Borger, the president was very firm. He made this commitment during the campaign, like other American presidents have made during earlier presidential campaigns, that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The president, President Trump, was very proud to say, unlike earlier presidents he's actually delivering on that campaign commitment.


And, you know, there was no fuzziness about this, Wolf. This was clearly stated. The president said, I am delivering, and made the point that other people have -- other presidents may have had their reasons, but they did not -- they did not do what he is about to do.

[13:20:16] This is -- this was about the president's promise during the campaign, which he clearly feels, even though there was disagreement in his administration about how to handle this, that he wanted to deliver no matter what the outcome, quite honestly. I think this was evangelicals were quite involved in it. It is no coincidence that you see the vice president standing beside the president on this. He was the go between with the evangelical community on there, who was very strong about this.

You know that the president was very close to Sheldon Adelson, who donated $25 million to his political action committee -- political action committee supporting his candidacy. And this is a president who right now wants to keep his promises because he is concerned about where he sit with the people who supported him. And despite disagreement, my colleagues here can talk about that, the disagreement that he is saying the other guys failed, I'm doing it, it's perfectly clear.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by for a moment.

Christiane Amanpour is with us as well. Christiane joining us from London.

Your reaction, Christiane?

AMANPOUR: Well, Wolf, what exactly just happened? Yes, the president did all those things that Gloria just said. But he also said two incredibly important things. And that is, they are still committed to a two-state solution. But most importantly, on the language of Jerusalem, I heard him say, and no doubt we'll pour over it again, he said, we are -- none of this is to prejudice the final outcome, none of this is for us to weigh in on one side or the other. And most specifically he said, it is up to the sides to deal with the boundaries of Jerusalem and it's not for us to deal with Israel's sovereign boundaries around Jerusalem.

Now, I don't know, but it sounded like he wasn't saying that he recognized Israel -- Jerusalem as only Israel's capital. Of course, it is Israel's capital. But it was leaving a door open for it potentially to be decided by the parties in a fine agreement. That's what I heard. Maybe I'm wrong. But I think it's really important to listen to that little bit again.

BLITZER: You're not wrong, Christiane. I heard exactly the same thing. The president said the United States would support a two-state solution. Israel living alongside a new state of Palestine. And he also said, even though the U.S. was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, he was not necessarily concluding the final sovereign borders of the city of Jerusalem. He was leaving that open to future negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

I think we have a clip of that specific -- that specific statement, Christiane. Listen to the president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved. The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides.


BLITZER: That's precisely what you suggested, Christiane. You heard it absolutely correctly. The president saying the U.S. would still support a two-state solution and isn't concluding what the final boundaries of the city of Jerusalem include.

AMANPOUR: Yes. And I think it's really important because what we've been saying all day is, words matter. We have to listen to exactly everything the president says. Yes, he threw red meat at his supporters and you can discuss that with the political team sitting around you. And he has talked about moving the embassy. Of course, that's a change.

But, again, not for another six months. You know, who knows what will happen in six months' time. Maybe it will happen. Maybe it won't. But it's going to take a long, long time to make that move. And that will be contentious.

But on the issue of the actually sovereignty and the ownership of Jerusalem, it is still apparently, you know, being left for the two sides to deal with or the United States as hopefully it can continue its role as an honest broker. We'll have to see what the two sides say after this speech. But, as I say, that issue that we're all waiting on tender hooks to see seems to have been, I mean, I don't know, it seems like it's status quo.

BLITZER: Christiane, I want you to stand by. I want to get more reaction, more analysis. Jim Sciutto is our chief

national security correspondent.

You were listening very closely, as all of us were. What did you hear?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Listen, it was a nuanced statement from the president. But the fact is, he did say something that previous presidents, Democrat and Republican, have not said about Jerusalem. And there's a reason that they have not despite the passage of this legislation some 20 years ago because the view is among both parties here in the U.S., but also U.S. allies and its adversaries, frankly, as well, China, Russia, is that by making that statement you're prejudicing the negotiations. Because the fact is, they haven't reached agreement on this.

[13:25:20] And, yes, he did say, I would support a two-state solution if both sides would support it and the status quo, et cetera. And there's a phrasing that he didn't quite use on Jerusalem, but he did come out and made a very fulsome statement supporting Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The word Palestinians was not mentioned until six or seven minutes into his comments there.

That -- words matter, certainly. The word -- the positive statement he did say has power coming from an American president. And that speaks to exactly why previous American presidents of both parties have not made such a statement because the view is that that would prejudice negotiations.

The other point I would make is that, in addition to this promise during his election, President Trump, at various times, has promised, or maybe boasted is the better word, that he's going to shake up these negotiations. I could talk to both sides. I'm sending my son-in-law out there to get this done.

And in this statement here he's saying that we're going to abandoned failed strategy. We're not going to speak to failed strategies -- stick to failed strategies. What is the strategy? Was there any discussion of how this is connected to a broader approach to achieving that peace that he says that he's open to? There's been no articulation of that in this speech or for the last nine months, ten months of his presidency so far.

BLITZER: Tis speech was an 11 minutes speech. I timed it. Exactly 11 minutes in which he laid out this new vision that he had.

SCIUTTO: Well, it's a statement. Is it a vision now? I don't know.

BLITZER: Well, at least it's the beginning of --


BLITZER: Some process. You know, they've been working since they took office on getting something going. There hasn't been any visible results, at least not yet.

Elise Labott's our global affairs correspondent. Your analysis?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, I agree with all of that. But if you listen to what he said on the whole Jerusalem issue, there isn't that much there there. This is already in U.S. law.

So what does the U.S. get for this? He gets, you know, to be able to tell his base. But it's kind of untethered to what we've been talking about in terms of these peace talks. Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, his -- also on the peace team, have been traveling through the region. They are gaining the trust and the confidence of the parties in terms of moving something together. I won't say that they're there yet, but they are going to lay out a peace deal. And this kind of, I think, diminishes some of the progress that's been made.

If you look at some of these reactions, Hamas, all options are open in defending the land now. Turkish President Erdogan, embolden (ph) terrorist organizations (ph), Jordan's King Abdullah, could fuel terrorism. You talk about the evangelical Christians. All of the heads of the local churches in Jerusalem said, please don't do that, it could cause irreparable harm.

So all of the good will that this peace team is getting in region I think now the role of the U.S. as an honest broker is going to be in question. I think, you know, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt might argue to you that, you know, deals are not linear. Maybe if you throw something into the equation, this will kind of be a catalyst. This not why he did it. As Gloria says, this was purely a presidential political move. But I think they're kind of working at cross purposes here. And I think the president might just have just poured fire on something that could have been slowly moving towards progress.

BLITZER: I'm anxious to get Aaron David Miller's reaction. He's a CNN global affairs analyst. He's with the Wilson Center.

But you spent decades working on this issue, Israel and the Palestinians, when you served in the state Department. What's your reaction?

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I mean I don't want to rain on the president's parade here. And I think that there is an interesting nuance with respect to not committing to the sovereignty of east Jerusalem or the borders, leaving it open to negotiations. But, frankly, this had nothing, in my judgement, to do with the pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace. The notion that somehow we need new ideas, there are no new ideas here. This seems to be a political statement by a willful president determined, a, to deliver, and to basically say to those who say -- said, you can't do it, you won't do it and you shouldn't do it, I can do it.

And I'm not entirely sure, Wolf, there's -- the statement doesn't appear attached or moored to any specific strategy. And, frankly, I think it's going to make Mr. Kushner's already impossible task that much more impossible. One final point. He did mention the Palestinians. But that was in

reference, frankly, to an overall situation. There's no acknowledgement in the statement whatsoever that Palestinians, frankly, or Arabs have any claim either to territory, a capital, or even, frankly, to the issue of sovereignty over the holy site.

So, by and large, I mean, I don't want to get -- I don't want us getting lost in the notion that just because the president acknowledged -- and, obviously, someone who had some measure of experience decided to put that tiny hook in there and to create the notion that now for the first time the administration has endorsed a two-state solution, assuming both sides accept it.