Trump administration to send NAFTA notification letter Thursday

US President Donald Trump walks from the Residence to the West Wing of the White House after returning from Philadelphia on January 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

The Trump administration is required to submit more detailed negotiating objectives 30 days prior to the start of the talks. | Getty

The Trump administration is expected to send to Congress on Thursday morning a final letter notifying lawmakers that it intends to open trade talks with Canada and Mexico in an attempt to renegotiate NAFTA, according to an administration official and congressional aides.

The letter would come just a day after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who was sworn in Monday, concluded two days of meetings with the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees as well as separate special trade advisory groups comprised of lawmakers from both chambers. Lighthizer leaves for Vietnam today to attend a meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade ministers.

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Sending the letter triggers a 90-day consultation period that must conclude before negotiations can officially begin — a process set out under the 2015 Trade Promotion Authority legislation that gives the White House the ability to fast-track passage of the deal in Congress. The 90-day period would end Aug. 16.

The administration is required to submit more detailed negotiating objectives 30 days prior to the start of the talks. An eight-page draft of the notification letter emerged in March, but congressional aides said that a final version circulated this week was only a page long, prompting some lawmakers to request more detail on some points.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who also attended the Capitol Hill meetings, told reporters late Wednesday afternoon that they had “made a lot of progress in getting toward the 90-day letter,” but he said it was up to Lighthizer to announce when it would be sent.

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Meet the legendary G-man investigating Russia’s meddling

Soon after former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III was named special counsel to oversee the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion by associates of Donald Trump, the president put out a statement saying he looked forward to the inquiry’s speedy resolution.

Trump clearly isn’t familiar with the management style of Mueller, the famously by-the-book former Marine, homicide squad supervisor and long-serving head of the nation’s premiere law enforcement agency.

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Mueller, 72, will oversee a sprawling and potentially explosive investigation that, his fans and critics alike said Wednesday night, will be finished when he says it’s finished, no matter the pushback from the White House or Trump’s political appointee running the Justice Department, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Mueller’s appointment comes a week after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who had been leading the investigation, just as it was heating up, with subpoenas being issued and Comey himself asking for more prosecutorial resources.

Based on past history, the investigation could stretch over a period of several years, as Mueller encourages FBI agents and prosecutors to pursue every lead, interview every witness – numerous times if needed – and consider any possible permutation of criminal violations, current and former colleagues said.

John Carlin, who led the Justice Department’s National Security Division as it pursued the Russia hacking probe in its earliest stages before the November election and is a former chief of staff and senior counsel to Mueller, said his former boss would run a buttoned-down, by-the-book operation.

“I can’t think of a better selection,” Carlin said, praising Mueller as someone whose reputation for integrity and experience overseeing complex investigations is respected “by people of all parties and background… by prosecutors and law enforcement agencies.”

He added: “There will either be charges that can be brought or there won’t. There won’t be additional discussion,” citing Comey’s explanation last summer of why the FBI and Justice Department weren’t filing charges in the Hillary Clinton email investigation, a decision that sparked controversy and, according to Trump, played a contributing role in his decision to fire Comey last week.

While the public mostly knows Mueller as the media portrays him – as a square-jawed G-man – he was also in his element briefing Presidents Bush and Obama on the nuances of the government’s most sensitive global counterterrorism operations, including their significant constitutional and legal limitations, according to Michael Leiter, a former Justice Department prosecutor who later headed the National Counterterrorism Center.

“I saw Bob, week after week with both presidents, explain complex investigations with precision and accuracy. There was no one on either national security team that demanded greater respect,” Leiter said. “With his intellect, integrity, and insight, he is right out of central casting on how a prosecutor and investigator should conduct themselves.”

Mueller was born in New York City in 1944 and grew up outside of Philadelphia. After getting degrees at Princeton and New York University, he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968, led a rifle platoon in Vietnam and earned a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and other medals for valor.

After receiving a law degree from the University of Virginia, Mueller worked as a federal prosecutor in San Francisco, rising to become head of the criminal division before moving to Boston to serve as the Justice Department’s top prosecutor there before ultimately returning to headquarters in Washington.

There he rose to become head of the criminal division, and oversaw the investigation into the Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, and the investigation and the prosecutions of Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega and New York mobster John Gotti.

In 1993, Mueller went into private practice, but didn’t stay long and soon headed back to the Justice Department in Washington – as a line prosecutor working homicide cases. “He hated it,” a longtime Justice Department colleague said of Mueller’s stint at a fancy law firm. “So he came back to the line. All he wanted to do was try cases.”

Mueller became a legend in the Justice Department’s Washington homicide squad, for his intensity but also his insistence on wearing both pinstripe suits and cowboy boots. “Everyone knew he just did it, but no one asked him why” Mueller favored the unusual fashion combination, the Justice Department colleague said. “He was ramrod straight, and it was always, ‘Yes sir, no sir’ with him. But he was the guy you wanted to perform well for. He was supportive a supervisor as you could have.”

It wasn’t long before Mueller was promoted again to a supervisory position by his boss, future Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. “He was conflicted, because he loved the homicide work. But when duty calls, Bob will answer.”

Those who know him well say Holder’s promotion of Mueller was prescient, because he proved to be a better manager, supervisor and leader than he was a prosecutor. He was sent back to San Francisco to clean up some problems in the U.S. Attorney’s office there, before being tapped by President Bush as director of the FBI in 2001.

During his 12-year tenure at the FBI, which included a special two-year extension sought by Obama and approved by Congress, Mueller displayed the same penchant for discipline, independence and support of his staff. In 2004, he reportedly threatened to quit over the Bush administration’s efforts to renew a top-secret warrantless wiretapping program.

After the 9/11 attacks, which occurred just one week into Mueller’s tenure, he orchestrated an unprecedented overhaul of the FBI, redefining it as an intelligence-driven agency that still investigated crimes, but focused on preventing terrorism and other destructive acts. “He has, in short, set the standard for what it means to be the Director of the FBI — positioning the Bureau to deal with 21st century threats without losing sight of its traditional law enforcement missions,” Holder said at Mueller’s farewell ceremony in August 2013.

But Mueller’s abrupt and merciless approach to reform also won him a lot of critics, and some enemies. “He shook things up, and did things his own way,” one Justice Department colleague said. “Did he have detractors? Sure. But I’ve worked long enough with the bureau to know that any time a new guy comes in, I don’t care who it is, there is always grousing.”

Friends and colleagues say those challenges have given Mueller the experience and perspective he needs to tackle what may prove to be his most complicated investigation yet. The probe will be complicated somewhat by Mueller’s relationship with Comey, and it remains to be seen what role, if any, the former director will play in it; he is expected to brief Congress soon on its findings to date, and the circumstances surrounding his firing.

Some friends and colleagues wonder if this latest, and perhaps last chapter, in Mueller’s career could tarnish his record, citing the long-running and much-criticized Whitewater investigation into President Bill Clinton led by independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

Mueller is known mostly as a rigid disciplinarian who brooks no compromise. And that’s true to a fault, according to longtime FBI associate James Bernazzani, who served as head of the FBI’s contingent of agents and analysts at the CIA Counterterrorism Center in the critical years after the Sept. 11 attacks.

But it’s what Mueller did after another catastrophe that illuminates another facet of his management style that will serve him well – and the FBI – as they face the challenges of the current investigation and the political pressures being placed on them by the Trump administration, Bernazzani says.

After Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans in August 2005, the city was in crisis and so was the FBI contingent there. Agents and support staff were trying to keep law and order in the city, even as some were burying loved ones, evacuating flooded homes and trying to find safe haven and schools for their children.

“Every time I asked for something, he said what else do you need?” recalls Bernazzani, who had just recently assumed what he thought would be a relatively peaceful post as agent in charge of the New Orleans field office.

Mueller made frequent visits to New Orleans to check in with Bernazzani and to personally view the devastation, the looting and the agents working under siege conditions. “He said to me, ‘Jimmy, remember one thing: Take care of your people, and your people will take care of the mission.’ ”

The FBI did such a good job that Bernazzani was being talked up as a candidate for mayor of New Orleans in the upcoming election. But when the FBI leader merely mentioned on a radio interview that he might be interested, Mueller told him he had to accept a promotion and return to Washington, to avoid any appearance of the FBI becoming involved in politics.

Bernazzani refused, and nearing retirement anyway, left the bureau as one of its most decorated agents. “He’s tough, he’s no bull—-, he’s fair and he does not suffer fools wisely. I have tremendous respect for him, even though once in a while he kicked my ass.”

Like others, Bernazzani said he looks forward to seeing what the FBI uncovers with the support and protection from interference that Mueller will provide.

“He will get to the bottom of this investigation and he will ensure that the FBI remains independent and apolitical,” Bernazzani said, “and he will make sure it is the not the administration’s FBI, it’s the people’s FBI.”

Darren Samuelsohn contributed to this story.

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5 things to watch in Trump’s financial disclosures

President Donald Trump leaves after speaking to the Independent Community Bankers Association, Monday, May 1, 2017, in the Kennedy Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump’s disclosures will not likely show how much he paid in taxes last year or his total business debt. | AP Photo

President Donald Trump may boast about it, but he won’t be breaking new ground by releasing updated financial disclosure forms one year before it’s required.

Every president since Ronald Reagan has done the same.

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Still, his 2016 disclosure to the Federal Election Commission—expected out as soon as this week—promises to generate intense scrutiny. The report, which aides said he would release voluntarily, will open a window into his books, likely showing how much cash flowed into his golf courses and hotels and more detail on how he wound down his business operations after winning the election.

But don’t expect the kitchen sink. The report won’t show how much Trump paid in taxes last year or his total business debt—the kinds of details that could show whether his businesses create conflicts of interest with his government gig.

Here are five things to watch when the forms come out:

How’s the Trump brand doing in the limelight?

Trump’s disclosure may put dollar figures around how his businesses fared financially during his presidential campaign.

He’s already boasting that his last two disclosure forms showed how rich he was. Last May, he claimed to be worth “in excess of $10 billion” when filing a form that he declared the “largest in the history” of the FEC.

A year before that, he complained that the FEC document didn’t have boxes to check off for some of his most valuable properties. “This report was not designed for a man of Mr. Trump’s massive wealth,” Trump’s press release said.

Now Trump finds himself in a different position. He’s faced allegations for months that he’s profiting off his presidency, and the documents he’s set to release may make that case.

Not only is Trump positioned to give a new net worth figure, he’ll also reveal revenue generated at Mar-a-Lago, the South Florida private club he visited frequently during the campaign and where he recently increased membership fees to $200,000; the Bedminster, N.J., club that’s been dubbed the “summer” White House; and the Trump National course in northern Virginia that he frequently visits when he’s spending weekends at the White House.

But wait, there’s more: Trump likely will disclose revenue he earned in 2016 on everything from his Charlottesville, Va., winery to royalties received from his 1987 autobiography “The Art of the Deal,” as well as other books that previously languished in the back catalogs but have since earned a new audience.

Important caveat: Figures spelling out the value of Trump’s assets won’t be official appraisals. They’ll be good-faith estimates—which Trump himself once acknowledged in a 2007 lawsuit deposition can fluctuate based on “even my own feelings.”

Most important, Trump will only disclose revenues, which means he’s only offering limited insight into the Trump Organization operation.

“It may be useful for boasting purposes,” said Kathleen Clark, an ethics and law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. “It also is misleading. The company has business expenses, for goodness sake.”

Is Trump still in charge of his companies?

Trump’s financial disclosure forms are expected to shed some light on how he’s rearranged his businesses since winning the White House in November.

The 2015 report he filed last year outlined 564 organizations – including corporations, partnerships, LLCs, foreign entities, non-profits and trusts – where Trump served in a senior leadership role, from president down to board member.

Each of those roles should be significantly diminished, if not gone, in this report. In January, Trump pledged to hand over day-to-day operations of his company to his adult sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr, as well as longtime senior Trump Organization executives.

Trump’s report also should show how many of those 564 organizations still exist. Media reports since the November election have cataloged some being shuttered, including licensing deals for hotels in Azerbaijan, Brazil and Georgia. But Trump may also have added new LLCs too, accounting for businesses like trademarks he’s won in China.

Important caveat: These disclosures will depend on the date range that Trump uses for his forms. Since it’s voluntary, he could detail his businesses for just 2016 or he could include the first few months of 2017 after he was sworn into the White House.

Ethics experts also say Trump could juggle entities into different corporate shells, making it hard to tell which ones he’s actually eliminated.

“It’s like moving the Mercedes from one garage to another,” said Richard Painter, the former George W. Bush White House ethics lawyer. “He still has the Mercedes in the garage.”

What about those June 2016 stock sales?

Under fire to explain what Trump would do to address his business conflicts of interest in the weeks after he won the presidential election, a transition spokesman last December said the president-elect had sold all his stocks in June 2016.

Now it’s time for Trump to prove it.

In his 2015 disclosures, Trump detailed at least $61 million that he owned in stocks, hedge funds and mutual funds—the totals were spelled out in wide financial ranges. Among his holdings: at least $25 million in the Blackrock’s Obsidian hedge fund, $600,000 million in Apple, $500 million in Google, $500,000 in Chevron and $500,000 in Comcast.

The fire sale likely crimped Trump’s bottom line. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has gone up more than 15.8 percent since last June, fueled by strong economic data, rising oil prices and the prospect of financial deregulation.

Important caveat: Trump’s stock portfolio is only a small portion of his wealth, and the FEC filing he’s releasing won’t require him to say how much he made on the transactions.

Who does Trump owe money?

Trump’s disclosure will allow closer scrutiny into how much debt he carries and whether any of the terms to his financing – interest rates or maturation terms — changed during the presidential campaign or transition.

In his 2015 form, Trump reported 16 major liabilities worth at least $315 million, including mortgages on Trump Tower and his golf courses in Miami, northern Virginia and Monmouth County, N.J. He also reported loans for the 40 Wall Street skyscraper in New York and the new Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Important caveat: The form won’t be detailed enough to get a full read on Trump’s debt. He doesn’t need to say which foreign governments’ financial institutions he’s on the hook to. And he won’t disclose corporate debt, so the forms likely show only a fraction of what he owes.

“It’s absolutely not a complete representation of the debt Donald Trump owes through his businesses,” said Clark. She pointed to an inconsistency: Trump in the past reported on his FEC form his total asset values and income that appeared to include his wider company properties but didn’t follow the same criteria for his liabilities.

“Imagine applying for a credit card or a loan and listing all your revenue and all your income but not all your debt,” she said.

What do the first lady’s finances look like?

Melania Trump barely registered a year ago when Trump filed his financial disclosure form. The only income listed for the future first lady—in a range from $15,001 to $50,000—came via royalties tied to a licensing agreement with a company called Melania Marks Accessories. She also reported up to $5 million in value from residential real estate in New York.

But media reports since May 2016 show there’s more to Melania Trump’s books.

In February, McClatchy reported that several companies connected to Melania Trump no longer had relationships to manufacture products tied to the first lady, including watches, jewelry and skin-care products. Melania Trump in April also reached a $2.9 million settlement with the Daily Mail and Mail Online to close a defamation lawsuit she brought after the tabloid published a story falsely suggesting she’d worked for an escort service.

Important caveat: Since these developments happened recently, Trump might not include them on the form, meaning the world would wait until next May to see the changes in her finances.

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Trump Is Giving a Speech About Islam. What Could Go Wrong?

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Washington And The World

Plenty. Here are eight do’s and don’ts the president should keep in mind.

During his upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia, President Trump is planning to give a lunchtime talk on counterterrorism and Islam to Muslim heads of state. What could go wrong?

Plenty. According to the president’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, “The speech is intended to unite the broader Muslim world against common enemies of all civilization and to demonstrate America’s commitment to our Muslim partners.” That’s a great idea in theory—most counterterrorism professionals advise building a common front with Muslim countries against jihadists. But for a president who campaigned on the dangers of Islam and proposed a ban on Muslim immigrants, the talk is fraught with political peril: Repeat campaign talking points, and he will infuriate the Muslim heads of state and the citizens they represent. Praise Islam effusively, and he will frustrate the people who elected him.

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The speech is being drafted by White House aide Stephen Miller, who helped craft the clumsy language of the first travel ban and views the fight against jihadism as a religious war. But Miller will have to subordinate his own views to those of his mercurial boss, who could deliver a sloppy wet kiss of a talk as easily as a rhetorical slap in the face. For Miller and anyone else taking on the impossible job of crafting this talk, here are some do’s and don’ts to help the president deliver a forgettable talk, which has the best chance of reinforcing America’s partnership with Muslim nations against their common jihadist foes:

DO’S

Do pray that this talk doesn’t happen. The president is not known for nuance, which is what a speech like this requires to escape the potential wrath of his multiple audiences. As someone who occasionally commits the academic’s sin of too much nuance, I wouldn’t volunteer for this mission at a community college in Peoria, much less in Riyadh. But the president doesn’t need to deliver this speech to win over other Muslim leaders. If they are present at the conference in Saudi Arabia, they have already determined that the domestic political price they might pay by cozying up to Trump is offset by the geopolitical benefits of playing nice with the most powerful nation on Earth.

It’s not too late to cancel the talk. The president’s team has already canceled a proposed address at Masada, where Israeli soldiers used to pledge loyalty to the state on the ancient site where Jewish zealots killed themselves rather than surrender to the Romans. The optics weren’t great for a president trying to revive the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. The optics of high-fiving the Saudis in Riyadh for their mixed record of countering the religious underpinnings of Salafi-jihadism aren’t much better.

Do peek at Obama’s Cairo speech. President Obama delivered a speech to the Muslim world just months into his presidency, like Trump plans to do. And he grappled with many of the same issues—jihadism, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Iran and nuclear proliferation, authoritarianism, and religious freedom. Although American conservatives dislike Obama’s speech because of the president’s lofty goals and his demand for Israel to freeze settlements, there’s an awful lot that Trump’s speechwriter can learn about how to respectfully call for social change in conservative Muslim countries.

Do share a draft of the speech with some actual Muslims. If the president must talk about the religion of 20 percent of the world’s inhabitants, his speechwriters should consult some of those inhabitants to make sure the speech doesn’t include any howlers. There are scores of Muslim patriots serving in the Trump administration, especially in in the military and national security agencies, who would be delighted to offer their advice. The president doesn’t have to heed it but at least his speech won’t be full of basic errors.

Do acknowledge that Islam is an American religion. Muslims have lived in the United States since the seventeenth century and maybe before. Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson may have disliked Islam but they often adduced it as a touchstone to test the strength of a state’s religious freedom laws. If Muslims could practice their faith, the argument went, then everyone’s religious freedoms were protected.

Do call on Muslim states to end blasphemy laws and to stop promoting religious intolerance. Some Muslim countries outlaw religious speech they don’t like as blasphemy, which can carry the death penalty. A few Muslim states like Saudi Arabia also promote religious hatred abroad. The president can call on his audience to put an end to both without publicly singling out any particular country or getting into the vagaries of whether halting them is in keeping with Islam or not.

DON’T

Don’t offer opinions on what Islam is and isn’t. President Trump’s predecessors often called Islam a religion of peace. Candidate Trump often associated Islam with war. The truth is that Islam, like other ancient faiths, contains multitudes. Hippy-dippy Sufis in the West jostle for center stage with dour ultraconservatives in the East. Indonesian Islam bears little resemblance to Moroccan Islam. Ancient Islam is refracted through the prism of modern Islam. President Trump can criticize trends in the Islamic world today without equating them with the entire religion.

Don’t talk about “moderate Muslims.” To many Muslims, it sounds condescendingly like “our kind of Muslim.” Moderation is also in the eye of the beholder—what many conservative Muslims consider moderate would be extreme by American standards. President Trump would be better off using “mainstream” instead, a less subjective term that can be substantiated through polling. Talk about mainstream Muslim values that most humans agree on, like not killing civilians.

Don’t promote Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Islamic world. By virtue of controlling the two holiest cities in Islam, Saudi Arabia is certainly a leader in the Islamic world. But President Trump should resist the temptation to flatter his hosts by promoting them as the leader of the Islamic world. Many Muslims dislike the Saudi government’s ultraconservative brand of Islam and resent the kingdom’s efforts to export it abroad. And depending on the issue, other Muslim countries have exercised more leadership in promoting tolerance and peace. Even where Saudi Arabia has been most helpful to the United States—energy stability and counterterrorism—it’s been a mixed bag.

***

A few days after President Trump’s proposed address, Ramadan begins. It’s a time of fasting and self-reflection for most Muslims. But it is also a time of peril. During last year’s Ramadan, ISIS carried out multiple terror attacks across the globe in a show of strength to offset its losses in Syria and Iraq. It may attempt to do the same this year, which means we will need to turn to our Muslim partners for help in protecting ourselves. Here’s hoping that President Trump makes it easy for them in the court of Muslim public opinion by delivering a lunchtime speech that will be forgotten by the time coffee is served.

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Why Israelis Don’t Care Whether the U.S. Moves Its Embassy to Jerusalem

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Presidents are used to receiving unsolicited advice. Here’s something for President Donald Trump to ponder as he packs his bags for Israel: Many Israelis really don’t care whether the United States moves its embassy to Jerusalem.

Latest reports now suggest that Trump has decided to forestall such a move for the forseeable future. His path to this destination, after indications that he would eschew the example of all his predecessors, has been tortuous.

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Celebrating Israel’s 69th independence day at the White House, Vice President Mike Pence recently reprised administration rhetoric on the matter. “The president of the United States, as we speak,” he told applauding party-goers in the Indian Treaty Room, “is giving serious consideration into moving the American embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson struck a more tentative figure over the weekend, possibly foreshadowing Trump’s plans to indeed exercise his presidential waiver and leave the embassy where it stands. When Tillerson tried passing the buck, suggesting that Israel might view the move as “perhaps a distraction” to a peace initiative, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired back that “the contrary” was in fact true. Adding to the confusion, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the Christian Broadcasting Network on Tuesday, “Obviously, I believe that the capital should be Jerusalem and the embassy should be moved to Jerusalem because if you look at all their government is in Jerusalem. So much of what goes on is in Jerusalem and I think we have to see that for what it is.”

To be sure, a rare consensus of Israeli Jews endorses Jerusalem as their nation’s capital. They feel strongly that all friends of Israel—first and foremost among them, the United States—should also confer this status on the original City upon a Hill. In their eyes, documents like last month’s UNESCO resolution, which branded Israel as an “occupying Power” in Jerusalem, are not only prejudicial and offensive, but they fly in the face of Israel’s bona fide legal and historical rights in the holy city.

If you engage Israelis in conversation, however, many of them express ambivalence about the embassy question. While they believe unabashedly that all foreign missions should be situated in Jerusalem, they largely reject any portrayal of this project as some form of “concession” to Israel. Few would be willing to proffer any substantial quid in return for what is regarded as little more than a symbolic quo.

From an Israeli perspective, moving the U.S. embassy would simply correct an injustice and affirm existing reality. Beyond that, it would be of scant practical importance. Today’s Jerusalem is a cosmopolitan venue, a tourist mecca bustling with cultural activity. Home to Israel’s “White House,” its supreme court, its parliament and almost all institutions of its government, Jerusalem hosts world leaders on a daily basis. They stay in its grand hotels and dine at its critically acclaimed restaurants. Leaving aside the mundane concerns of its residents, Jerusalem, by all accounts, is managing pretty well. If anything, it is members of the diplomatic corps who would be the primary beneficiaries of the embassy’s relocation, spared the need to travel back and forth from Tel Aviv to conduct their official business.

Nothing prevents the United States from promoting its swanky consulate in Arnona—a neighborhood in uncontested, western Jerusalem—to embassy class. Even the Russians, who “view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” would be hard-pressed to object. Congress already laid the groundwork for the upgrade over two decades ago, when it passed the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act. (Ironically, the other U.S. compound in Jerusalem, on Agron Road, already functions as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians.) And politics notwithstanding, everybody acknowledges that Jerusalem is the seat of Israeli power.

But truth be told, the formalities of American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital are overrated. The Israeli government insists that the Palestinian Authority accept its right to exist as a state of the Jewish People; otherwise, Palestinians will surely persist in their efforts to defeat a still “illegitimate” Israel, and the conflict will continue to defy resolution. When successive U.S. administrations pretend that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel—or that Israel has no capital at all—they merely insult their Israeli friends and alienate other well-wishers of Israel. The same holds true when senior administration officials waffle about whether the Western Wall, the Second Temple remnant where Jews congregate daily in prayer, is situated in Israel. These grievances are emotional, but not existential, especially since Israel has no intention to either demote Jerusalem’s preeminence or surrender the Wall. Ending this fallacy would make Israelis feel better, and they will certainly appreciate the gesture, but it will change almost nothing in their lives.

If the president wants to land in Israel bearing gifts, there are plenty of other things that take rightful precedence for Israelis anyway. He can escalate pressure on the Palestinian Authority until it halts the scandalous payment of salaries to convicted killers of Israelis. He can grant a coveted visa waiver for Israelis travelling to the United States. He can act to ensure Iran’s meticulous compliance with all conditions of the nuclear deal it signed with the P5+1, and the enforcement of all outstanding sanctions against the regime in Tehran. He can even give Israel greater latitude to build new homes in Jerusalem itself.

Trump is by all means welcome to heed the overwhelming, bipartisan call of the U.S. Congress and move the embassy to Jerusalem—if not on this trip, than at any time of his choosing. He would be sending a signal that the United States respects its ally’s choice of its own capital and that it won’t be deterred by threats of violence. Other countries could then follow in his footsteps. Hopefully, with Jerusalem no longer held hostage to peripheral machinations, he might also pave the way to genuine progress toward regional peace.

He could authorize the move because he wants to keep his campaign promise, because America prides itself in doing the honorable thing or just because it makes sense. But he shouldn’t do it as a misplaced favor to the people of Israel. They can live without it. Especially now, in light of new allegations about Trump sharing confidential data with Russia, it’s clear that efforts to build Israeli confidence in his leadership can be invested more intelligently.

Shalom Lipner (@ShalomLipner) is a nonresident senior fellow of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. From 1990 to 2016, he served seven consecutive premiers at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

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