WASHINGTON – President Bush rejected on Monday a congressional effort to force his administration to take tentative steps toward moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Accepting Jerusalem as Israel's capital, which has been avoided by a succession of U.S. administrations, would reinforce Israel's claim but would anger Arabs who want to make part of the city into the capital of a Palestinian state. Almost all countries still have their diplomatic missions in Tel Aviv.
"U.S. policy regarding Jerusalem has not changed," Bush wrote in a statement as he signed an $8.6 billion spending bill for State Department programs around the world.
He criticized the provision that recommended recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, saying it "impermissibly interferes with the president's constitutional authority to conduct the nation's foreign affairs."
The measure would, "if construed as mandatory rather than advisory, impermissibly interfere with the president's constitutional authority to formulate the position of the United States, speak for the nation in international affairs and determine the terms on which recognition is given to foreign states."
Secretary of State Colin Powell believes Israel and the Arabs must decide the city's future through negotiations, department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
What Congress did last week on the Middle East as it authorized spending for State Department programs around the world hinders "advancing our interests in the region and promoting a just and lasting peace," Boucher said.
Israel considers Jerusalem the eternal capital of the Jewish people. In the 1967 Six Day War, Israel ousted Jordan from the eastern part of the city after 19 years of occupation and later annexation and united it with the western portion, which Israel already held.
The Arabs intend to regain control of east Jerusalem and make it the capital of a Palestinian state.
President Bush declared his support for Israel's position on Jerusalem in his 2000 election campaign. Once in the White House, however, he fell back on the State Department's longtime argument that the Arabs must have a voice in determining the city's future.
The United States maintains a consulate in Jerusalem but uses it mainly to deal with Palestinians.
Congress specified that no money may be used for the consulate unless it is under the supervision of the American ambassador rather than reporting directly to Washington as now.
Another provision told Congress to spend no money for publication of official documents that list Israel without identifying Jerusalem as the capital.
As Congress considered the actions, Boucher said, "The State Department made consistently clear that it was opposed to this position."
"Our view on Jerusalem is unchanged," he said. "Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be negotiated between the parties."
He also registered objections to a move by Congress to withhold $10 million in U.S. economic aid to Lebanon for failing to assert its authority against Hezbollah guerrillas that have attacked Israel from southern Lebanon.
Iran has been supplying the guerrillas with thousands of missiles for an attack on Israel that apparently would be timed to disrupt a possible U.S. strike against Iraq, a senior Israeli official said Friday in Jerusalem.
The missiles, as well as several hundred Iranian Revolutionary Guards, have reached Hezbollah, which the State Department lists as a terrorist group, through Syria, according to Israel.
The State Department has taken no action against Lebanon, Syria or Iran, confining itself to appealing to all three countries to curb violence.
Criticizing Congress, Boucher said Powell was opposed to the cut in U.S. aid. In fact, Boucher said, the $32 million in assistance Lebanon is to receive this year is going to Beirut without interruption.
The spokesman said the money is used to strengthen the country's economy, improve water resources and promote democracy.