Political News

Tillerson says opportunity for Middle East peace deal remains

Posted December 6, 2017 12:19 p.m. EST

— Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday there is still "a very good opportunity for peace to be achieved" in the Middle East, despite the Trump administration's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy to that city.

"The President is very committed to the Middle East peace process," Tillerson told reporters at a news conference from NATO headquarters in Brussels. "He has a team that he put in place almost immediately upon entering the White House."

Early in the administration, President Donald Trump tasked his son-in-law Jared Kushner, along with attorney Jason Greenblatt, with developing an Israel-Palestinian peace process.

But critics and US allies alike have voiced concerns that Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital could jeopardize that effort by damaging US relationships in the region and potentially driving the Palestinians away from the process.

In his news conference Wednesday, Tillerson insisted the process is alive.

"We continue to believe there is a very good opportunity for peace to be achieved," he said, "and the President has a team that is devoted to that entirely."

But Tillerson, who was in Brussels for a NATO ministerial, faced the international backlash against the decision directly.

Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, told reporters immediately ahead of his meeting with Tillerson that the move is "a grave mistake."

"It would not bring any stability, peace but rather chaos and instability," he said, adding that he's relayed his position on the matter to Tillerson, and planned to do so again.

Asked later Wednesday morning how discussions on the future of Jerusalem were going, Tillerson said, "We haven't had a lot of talks about that," insisting his discussions have centered on other agenda items.

Meanwhile, Tillerson's British counterpart, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, said his country would wait and see what Trump announces.

"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," he noted.