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Senate Oks Bill Requiring Any New U.S. Embassy or Consulate in Israel to Be Located in Jerusalem

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A measure approved by the Senate on Wednesday would prohibit the construction of any new U.S. embassy or consulate in Israel unless it is within five miles of the Knesset.

Introduced by Sen. Jesse Helms (R. NC), the amendment was incorporated into a bill authorizing $1.1 billion for security improvements at U.S. diplomatic facilities abroad before the package was approved by voice vote on the Senate floor.

If included in the final version worked out with the House of Representatives, it would effectively force the Administration either to change its policy for not having an embassy in Jerusalem or to refrain from leaving its current embassy, which is said to have some major security flaws.

The measure passed by the Senate earmarks a requested $83 million for construction of a new embassy in Israel and $41 million for a consulate only on the condition that they are located within five miles of the Knesset, inside the 1967 boundaries of Jerusalem.

The wording thus permits the construction of a new embassy or consulate in West Jerusalem, where the Knesset is located, but not in the eastern part of the city which was captured in the 1967 war. There are currently two diplomatic facilities in Jerusalem–a consulate in the western part and a cultural center and visa office in the Old City.

According to Jim Lucier, a staff member at Helms’ office, the amendment was introduced in response to a State Department outline of its land acquisition plans in the context of its proposed program for improving embassy security abroad. The report indicated that October had been targeted for acquisition of a new embassy site in Tel Aviv, Lucier told the JTA.

No confirmation of the status of the Department’s embassy search could be obtained on Thursday. But State Department spokesman Charles Redman indirectly criticized the measure approved by the Senate.

“Relocating an embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem while the status of Jerusalem remains unresolved would undermine the role of the United States as the principal intermediary in the Arab-Israeli conflict,” Redman said. He added that “the construction of new secure facilities in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv would not foreclose any option” to relocate once the status of the city is resolved.

Lucier maintained that Secretary of State George Shultz had not indicated any opposition to the amendment when the suggestion was raised at a recent Senate hearing. According to one State Department spokesman, however, “beauty might be in the eyes of the beholder there.”

In any case, the State Department spokesman stressed, no one in the Administration is “up in arms” at this stage, as the provision might well be omitted from the final authorization measure adopted when the two houses of Congress reconcile the packages they have approved. The House version contains no such condition on constructing new facilities in Israel.

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