By Kevin Liptak, CNN
(CNN) – The American embassy in Israel, currently in Tel Aviv, should move to Jerusalem, presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney said in an interview Sunday.
“A nation has the capacity to choose its own capital city, and Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Romney told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview set to air Monday. “I think it’s long been the policy to ultimately have our embassy in the nation’s capital of Jerusalem.”
The timing of the move, Romney said, would be made in consultation with Israel’s government.
“I would follow the same policy we have had in the past, our embassy would be in the capital, and the timing of that is something I would want to work out with the government,” Romney said.
No country’s embassy to Israel is currently situated in Jerusalem. Nearly every nation with a diplomatic mission to Israel has its embassy in or near Tel Aviv. Some countries have embassies in Mevaseret Zion, a suburb of Jerusalem. The United States currently has a consulate in Jerusalem, which provides visas and other services.
In pledging to move the American embassy in Israel, Romney joins presidential candidates in the past that have made the same promise, including former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Neither made the move as commander in chief.
American policy has long been intentionally vague on the status of Jerusalem. A U.S. law passed in 1995 designates Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and stipulates the American embassy should move to the city from Tel Aviv. The past three presidents, however, have signed waivers suspending the law, citing security and diplomatic concerns.
Israelis consider Jerusalem the capital of their country, but Palestinians also claim rights to the city as the capital of a future independent state. The status of the city is designated for final negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator and member of the executive committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, responded to Romney’s labeling of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital Sunday.
“East Jerusalem is occupied territory. I don’t think occupation and aggression is rewarded even during an election campaign,” Erekat said. “Those who seek peace between Palestine and Israel and those who seek to save lives must stand tall for the two state solution and for East Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Palestine.”
In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama waded into the issue of Jerusalem’s status, pledging before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”
He later walked back the comment on CNN, telling Fareed Zakaria the remark was a result of “poor phrasing.”
“The point we were simply making was, is that we don’t want barbed wire running through Jerusalem, similar to the way it was prior to the ’67 war, that it is possible for us to create a Jerusalem that is cohesive and coherent,” Obama said. “I was not trying to predetermine what are essentially final status issues.”
On Thursday, the subject of Israel’s capital arose at the White House press briefing.
“What city does this administration consider to be the capital of Israel – Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?” a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
“I haven’t had that question in a while. Our position has not changed,” Carney answered. Pressed further for the White House’s position on Israel, Carney responded “you know our position” before moving on to other questions.
In a transcript of the briefing emailed later Thursday afternoon, the White House included a paragraph explaining their position.
“The status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians,” the statement read. “We continue to work with the parties to resolve this issue and others in a way that is just and fair, and respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.”