The State Department reiterated Wednesday there has been no change in U.S. policy on Jerusalem, even though President Bush signed a budget bill from Congress Monday containing language that seemingly obligates the administration to identify Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Even though the White House says it will ignore the bill's language, the legislation continues to draw protests from the Arab world and elsewhere.
Officials here say the United States still considers the status of Jerusalem an issue to be settled by Israel and the Arabs in negotiations, This despite an apparently-widespread assumption in the Arab world that the bill from Congress marks a change in the U.S. approach.
There has been a chorus of criticism of the congressional measure from Arab political figures, among them Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who called it a "disaster," and Arab League chief Amr Moussa who said it violates key U.N. resolutions.
The bill authorizing the State Department's $4 billion budget for the coming year stipulates, among other things, that U.S. government documents should list Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that passports for U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem should specify Israel as the country of birth.
President Bush said in a written statement as he signed the bill Monday that the Jerusalem language "impermissibly interferes" with his constitutional authority to conduct foreign policy, and would be construed as advisory rather than mandatory.
Administration officials have since stressed repeatedly that U.S. Jerusalem policy remains unchanged, including State Department spokesman Philip Reeker, who expressed frustration at a briefing Wednesday that questions persisted about the U.S. approach.
"I can't give you anything more than to be quite clear, with the president of the United States stating that our policy on Jerusalem has not changed, with the secretary of state saying the same thing, and his spokesman presenting that to you and to the entire world yesterday from here," he said. "And I can't make it any plainer than that. That's the same message that our embassies are able to deliver if they're asked about it. We're saying that publicly. I don't know how more publicly we can do it."
State Department officials say they had expressed concern about the Jerusalem provisions of the legislation to Congressional leaders, but that legislators went ahead and included them in the final bill approved last week.
Arab commentators have criticized President Bush for choosing to sign the measure rather than vetoing it.
But officials here say a veto could have meant a prolonged budget crisis for the State Department, and that the bill was laden with other troublesome language the administration will disregard, including a passage that would undercut the United States' long-standing "one-China" policy.
Along with most other countries, the United States maintains its embassy in Israel in Tel Aviv, rather than Jerusalem, to reflect the contested nature of the city, which Israel considers its capital, including mainly-Arab East Jerusalem, captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
In his campaign for the White House two years ago, George W. Bush had pledged if elected, to start the process of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in line with an act of Congress approved in 1995.
However, since taking office, Mr. Bush has invoked every six months, as did his predecessor Bill Clinton, a provision of the measure allowing him to defer the embassy move for reasons of national security.