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State Dept. official’s Mideast itinerary rears Jerusalem issue

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jerusalem’s relationship to Israel was raised anew with the recent itinerary for a State Department official’s Middle East visit.

A news release on March 18 detailing the itinerary for acting Under Secretary of State Kathleen Stephens listed four countries she would visit, including Israel, and listed Jerusalem separately.

After the wording of the earlier release raised objections, the State Department reissued the release noting that Stephens would be visiting Algiers, Doha, Amman, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

During a March 28 news conference, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was pressed on the issue by an Associated Press reporter. Nuland responded that the issue of Jerusalem needed to be solved through negotiations, then said, "That’s all I have to say on this issue.”

Asked specifically “what is the capital of Israel?,” Nuland said that “Our embassy, as you know, is located in Tel Aviv.”

The issue of non-recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has long been an issue in Washington.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chair of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, was among the members of Congress who stated their disapproval with the handling of the news release and the refusal to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“Legitimizing the myth that Jerusalem isn’t part of Israel undermines our ally Israel’s sovereign right to designate its own capital, and lends credibility to efforts by Palestinian leaders and extremists who continue to deny the connection of the Jewish people to their historic capital, Jerusalem,”  Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. 

In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act calling on the State Department to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by 1999, but no president has implemented the act. 

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