US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania meet Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican. Picture: REUTERS/
US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania meet Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican. Picture: REUTERS/

Jerusalem — Global concern mounted on Wednesday ahead of an announcement by US President Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with Pope Francis joining a list of leaders warning of the potential for dangerous fallout.

The move by Trump, set to come in a speech later on Wednesday, would upend decades of careful US policy and ignore dire warnings of a historic misstep that could trigger a surge of violence in the Middle East.

A senior administration official said Trump would make the announcement from the White House at 1pm (6pm GMT).

"He will say that the US government recognises that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel," a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"He views this as a recognition of reality, both historic reality and modern reality."

Plunging further into a decades-long dispute over a city considered holy by Jews, Muslims and Christians, Trump will also order planning to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

"It will take some time to find a site, to address security concerns, design a new facility, fund a new facility and build it," the official said.

"It will be a matter of some years, it won’t be months, it’s going to take time."

The status of Jerusalem is a critical issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with both sides claiming the city as their capital.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refrained from commenting on the issue in his first speech since Trump’s plan was confirmed.

But, in a frantic series of calls, the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the European Union, France, Germany and Turkey all warned Trump against the move.

Here are some of the responses.

The UK

Britain’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, warned that Trump’s plan underlined the urgency of a new US-led Middle East peace plan.

Johnson said: "We’ll have to wait and see what the president says.

"But clearly this is a decision that makes it more important than ever that the long-awaited American proposals on the Middle East peace process are now brought forward and I would say that that should happen as a matter of priority.

"We would like to see as a result of this the Americans proposals on the Middle East peace process brought forward."

Russia

The Kremlin said Russia was concerned that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian authorities could be aggravated further by the move.

"However, we would not discuss the decisions which have not been taken yet," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters.

China

China expressed concern, saying the US plan could spark new hostility.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing that the status of Jerusalem was a complicated and sensitive issue and China was concerned the US decision "could sharpen regional conflict".

"All parties should do more for the peace and tranquillity of the region, behave cautiously, and avoid impacting the foundation for resolving the longstanding Palestine issue and initiating new hostility in the region," Geng said.

Syria

The Syrian government warned on Wednesday of the "dangerous consequences" of the US plan to recognise Jerusalem.

"This is a dangerous initiative by the US administration that clearly exemplifies the US’s contempt for international law," a foreign ministry official quoted by the official SANA news agency said.

"Syria condemns in the strongest possible terms the US president’s move to transfer the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem and recognise Jerusalem as the capital of the Israeli occupation," the foreign ministry said.

The foreign ministry official quoted by the state news agency pointed a finger at Saudi Arabia, whose relations with Iran and the Syrian regime are more strained than ever.

"The US president and his regional allies will bear responsibility for this decision’s dangerous consequences," the official said.

Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a summit of the main pan-Islamic body in Istanbul on December 13 to discuss the move.

"In the face of developments that arouse sensitivity over the status of Jerusalem, Mr President is calling a leaders’ summit of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) in order to display joint action among Islamic countries," presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told reporters in Ankara.

The Turkish government said the expected US move risked igniting a "fire" in the Middle East and would prove a "great disaster".

The recognition would "throw the region and the world into a fire and it’s not known when it will end", Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Bekir Bozdag wrote on Twitter.

He warned that the move was a "great disaster for everyone" that would lead the way to "turmoil, chaos and clashes" and could produce "unpleasant things that we have not foreseen".

The Vatican

Speaking before Trump’s announcement, Pope Francis defended the "status quo" of Jerusalem.

"I cannot silence my deep concern over the situation that has emerged in recent days. At the same time, I appeal strongly for all to respect the city’s status quo, in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions," the pope said in his weekly address.

The Argentinian pontiff’s call came a day after he spoke by phone with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, the Vatican said without elaborating.

"Jerusalem is a unique city, sacred for Jews, Christians and Muslims," he said, adding that it was home to sites deemed holy by followers of the three major monotheistic faiths. Jerusalem, the pope said, holds a "special vocation for peace".

Hamas

The armed Islamist Hamas movement has threatened to launch a new "intifada" or uprising.

Palestinians were calling for three days of protests starting from Wednesday, raising fear of potential unrest.

Saudi Arabai

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman warned his close ally that moving the US embassy was a "dangerous step" that could rile Muslims around the world.

AFP and Reuters

Please sign in or register to comment.