New US Envoy Will 'Do What He Can' To Move Embassy
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Washington's new ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, presented his credentials to Israeli President Moshe Katsav on Tuesday, before heading out of Israel's capital to fill his post in Tel Aviv.
Kurtzer may be the last American ambassador to Israel to be based in an embassy outside of Jerusalem. Kurtzer said his instructions included doing whatever he can to ensure that the U.S. embassy relocates to Jerusalem, as President Bush pledged to do during his election campaign.
Bush recently emulated his predecessor by signing a six-month "security" waiver to avoid fulfilling the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act.
The law, which enjoyed widespread bi-partisan support in Congress, mandated that the U.S. embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by May 1999, a step that would validate Israel's claim to the city.
But lawmakers gave the president the power to postpone the move indefinitely beyond that date, by signing a security waiver every six months.
"President Bush said both during his campaign and since that he is committed to upholding the law and moving the embassy," Kurtzer said after meeting with Israel's ceremonial head of state. "And we're going to be moving in that direction."
"Most recently Bush did exercise the waiver authority, but my instructions are to keep thinking about it and see what we can do and hopefully creating the conditions under which [the move] could happen," he said in a radio interview.
The U.S. has diplomatic missions in 170 countries worldwide, all located in the host country's capital, except in the case of Israel.
Only three small Latin American countries, Costa Rica, Bolivia and El Salvador, currently have their embassies in Jerusalem - an indication of the overriding international view opposing Israel's right to the city.
Jerusalem is at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian Authority conflict. Israel considers the city its indivisible, eternal capital, while the PA demands at least the eastern part - which was occupied by Arab Jordan between 1948 and 1967 - to become the capital of a future Palestinian state.
As the senior representative of Israel's most important ally, American ambassadors play a leading diplomatic role in the region.
Kurtzer is no stranger to Middle East politics or to Israel. His last posting was as ambassador to Egypt, where he served from 1997. He was also deputy assistant secretary of state for near-eastern affairs from 1989-1994 and was posted in Tel Aviv in the 1980s as a political officer.
An Orthodox Jew, Kurtzer is not the first Jewish ambassador to Israel, although he is the first Jewish career diplomat to hold the post. Two-time outgoing ambassador, Martin Indyk, was the first U.S. Jewish ambassador here.
An Israeli radio commentator described Kurtzer as being seen by the Arabs as a little too Jewish and by the Jews as a little too American. But the new ambassador said that probably meant he's just right for the job.
"I think the experience that I've had in the region, the experience I've had in Israel ... will be useful in some respect as we conduct a very intensive dialogue with everybody here to see how we can bring about an end to violence and a restoration of calm," he said.
Kurtzer assumes his post at a time when a U.S.-brokered ceasefire to end 10 months of Palestinian terrorism and retaliatory Israeli military actions has failed to take hold.
The U.S. recently sent an additional ambassador to the region, to help smooth over this period of transition in Tel Aviv.