Trump threatens Jerusalem opponents with US funding cutoff
UNITED NATIONS – President Donald Trump threatened Wednesday to cut off U.S. funding to countries that support a resolution criticizing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
"We'll save a lot. We don't care," he said, alluding to U.S. aid.
The president strongly supported U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley who said Tuesday that the United States "will be taking names" of countries that vote in favor of a General Assembly resolution Thursday declaring that Jerusalem's status can be changed only by direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
"For all these nations, they take our money and then vote against us. They take hundreds of millions of dollars, even billions of dollars and then they vote against us," Trump told reporters at a Cabinet meeting in Washington with Haley sitting nearby. "We're watching those votes. Let them vote against us."
In a letter to over 180 of the 193 U.N. member states and an even tougher tweet Tuesday, Haley hinted at possible U.S. retaliation but Trump's comments made clear to recipients of U.S. assistance that billions of dollars could be at stake.
Haley's threat drew sharp criticism from the Palestinian and Turkish foreign ministers before they flew to New York for the General Assembly vote. They accused the U.S. of intimidation.
Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, tweeted after Trump's comments: "Our government should not use its leadership at the UN to bully/blackmail other nations that stand for religious liberty and justice in Jerusalem. Justice is a core value of Christianity, Judaism and Islam."
Ambassador Rhonda King of the tiny Caribbean nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines sent Haley a letter saying that her country treasures the United States "as an enduring ally" but will vote against Trump's action.
"Sometimes, friends differ; on Jerusalem, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines respectfully differs from the USA; and so, too, do many of the staunchest friends and allies of the USA," King wrote. "We gently urge yet again that the government of the USA rethink its position and approach on this entire matter."
Before Haley's letter and tweet, Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour told The Associated Press he expected "massive support" for the resolution in the General Assembly.
What impact the threats from Trump and Haley will have remains to be seen.
Israel has also been conducting a global lobbying campaign against the resolution, government officials said Wednesday. The vote will show whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in his efforts to drum up new pockets of support in the developing world.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport before flying to New York that they believe U.N. member countries will ignore "pressure" from Haley.
Al-Maliki said he believes that countries will vote their conscience Thursday, and "they will vote for justice, and they will vote in favor of that resolution."
"No honorable state would bow to such pressure," Cavusoglu said. "The world has changed. The belief that 'I am strong therefore I am right' has changed. The world today is revolting against injustices."
The Palestinians sought the General Assembly vote after the United States on Monday vetoed a resolution supported by the 14 other U.N. Security Council members that would have required Trump to rescind his declaration on Jerusalem as Israel's capital and not move the U.S. Embassy there.
Unlike the Security Council, assembly resolutions are not legally binding but they do reflect world opinion.
In Wednesday's letter, reportedly sent to over 180 countries, Haley said the Trump administration is "simply asking that you acknowledge the historical friendship, partnership, and support we have extended and respect our decision about our own embassy."
She said the U.S. Congress decided 22 years ago that Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of Israel and Trump followed through on that decision.
"The president will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those countries who voted against us," she wrote in the letter obtained by AP. "We will take note of each and every vote on this issue."
Her tweet was sharper: "At the UN we're always asked to do more & give more. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American ppl, abt where to locate OUR embassy, we don't expect those we've helped to target us. On Thurs there'll be a vote criticizing our choice. The US will be taking names."
This was not the first time that Haley threatened to keep track of U.S. opponents.
On Jan. 27, the day she arrived at the United Nations as ambassador, Haley announced a new way the United States would be doing business. The Trump administration's goal is to show U.S. strength, speak out and defend its allies — and as for countries opposing America, "We're taking names," she said.
The letter on the Jerusalem vote was the first time since then that Haley vowed to compile a list.
Her action recalled to some veteran U.N. diplomats the run-up to the Iraq war in 2002 when then U.S. President George W. Bush launched a campaign against France and other opponents of military action who refused to support a Security Council resolution to authorize war. The resolution, which former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was pressing for and the U.S. backed, was withdrawn by Britain because it was certain to be defeated as a result of strong council opposition.
The resolution being voted on Thursday is co-sponsored by Turkey, chair of the summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Yemen, chair of the Arab Group at the U.N.
It is very similar to the defeated Security Council resolution.
The draft resolution says Jerusalem "is a final status issue" and reaffirms 10 Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem, dating back to 1967, including requirements that the city's final status must be decided in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
It "affirms that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered, the character, status or demographic composition of the holy city of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded."
The draft resolution "demands that all states comply with Security Council resolutions regarding the holy city of Jerusalem, and not to recognize any actions or measures contrary to those resolutions."
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.