Trump to declare Jerusalem capital of Israel: White House officials

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In a momentous shift of United States foreign policy in the Middle East, President Donald Trump is set to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Wednesday and initiate the process of relocating the U.S. embassy to the city from Tel Aviv, according to senior administration officials.

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The president is expected to officially announce the policy changes in remarks at the White House at 1pm on Wednesday.

A U.S. official and a source close to the White House told ABC News that official recognition of Jerusalem as the capital is expected to be intentionally broad and not meant to preclude the possibility that the Palestinians could claim part of the historic city as a capital of a future Palestinian state. The president does not want to “prejudice” the outcome of any future peace negotiations for a two-state solution, one source familiar with the plan told ABC News.

PHOTO: Exterior of the US Embassy building in Tel Aviv, Israel, Jan. 20, 2017.Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
Exterior of the US Embassy building in Tel Aviv, Israel, Jan. 20, 2017.

The president will also sign a six-month waiver of a 1995 law mandating an embassy move, thereby keeping the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv for the time being as he initiates the process of relocating the embassy – a process that is expected to take years and will include a survey of construction sites and a search for contractors. Until the new embassy in Jerusalem opens, current law requires the president to sign the waiver that maintains the embassy in Tel Aviv.

The approach described by the officials appears aimed at allowing the president to fulfill a key campaign promise, while also attempting to soften fallout of his decision to move the embassy by delaying it for an undefined period of time.

PHOTO: Exterior of the US Embassy building in Tel Aviv, Israel, Jan. 20, 2017.Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
Exterior of the US Embassy building in Tel Aviv, Israel, Jan. 20, 2017.

“While we understand how some parties might react, we are still working on our plan which is not yet ready,” a senior administration official said. “We have time to get it right and see how people feel after this news is processed over the next period of time.”

A senior official downplayed concerns about threats of violence to U.S. citizens overseas as a result of the announcement, saying that the proper precautions have been taken to provide for anticipated additional security needs.

“We’re obviously concerned about the protection of U.S. citizens, U.S. officials anywhere in the world,” an official said, but added that U.S. security agencies have been involved in the decision and are prepared to provide extra security that may be necessary.

FILE - In this April 13, 2017, file photo, covered in prayer shawls Jewish men of the Cohanim priestly caste participate in a blessing during the Passover holiday, in front of the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray in Jerusalems Old The Associated Press
FILE – In this April 13, 2017, file photo, covered in prayer shawls Jewish men of the Cohanim priestly caste participate in a blessing during the Passover holiday, in front of the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray in Jerusalem’s Old

FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2015, file photo, Palestinians pray during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, near the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalems old city. U.S. officials say President Donald Trump will recognize JThe Associated Press
FILE – In this Sept. 24, 2015, file photo, Palestinians pray during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, near the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s old city. U.S. officials say President Donald Trump will recognize J

Pope Francis spoke out against the decision Wednesday in a previously scheduled meeting with a Palestinian delegation of religious and intellectual leaders.

“My thoughts now go to Jerusalem,” the pope said. “In this regard, I cannot keep silent about my deep concern over the situation that has arisen in recent days and, at the same time, a heartfelt appeal so that everyone would be committed to respecting the status quo of the city, in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations.”

One official described the president’s move in recognizing Jerusalem as the official capital as a “recognition of reality,” with a second official making the case that the location of the embassy is a neutral factor in the United States ultimate ability to be an effective arbiter of a peace deal.

“For a long time, the United States position held that ambiguity or lack of acknowledgement would somehow advance the prospect of peace,” the senior official said. “It seems clear now that physical location of American embassy is not material to a peace deal. It’s not an impediment to peace fundamentally, and it’s not a facilitator of peace.”

FILE - In this Monday, Feb. 1, 2016 file photo, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man looks at the Western Wall and Dome of the Rock in the back, in Jerusalems Old City. U.S. officials say President Donald Trump will recognize Jerusalem as Israels capital WThe Associated Press
FILE – In this Monday, Feb. 1, 2016 file photo, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man looks at the Western Wall and Dome of the Rock in the back, in Jerusalem’s Old City. U.S. officials say President Donald Trump will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital W

The senior official explained the president’s thinking in reaching his decision to move the embassy as being based in part on a belief that the move could actually be beneficial to achieving a broader peace deal.

“He has said that he thinks in a sense not making this acknowledgment of reality, one of the central issues, is sort of taking it out, so we can work on the core issues, the deal will help advance the peace, I think that’s fundamentally where his opinion has been on this subject all along,” the official said.

The official said the president is optimistic about the prospects for a grand peace deal and said that the president’s “peace team,” led by the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, has already made progress, even as the official acknowledged there are few deliverables the administration can currently identify.

“He’s encouraged by the progress his peace team has made so far, I know a lot of that progress isn’t visible, I think that’s one of the things –- I know he believes and I know the peace team believes –- it’s partly because that progress is not visible that they’ve been able to make so much progress,” the official said.

ABC News’ Devin Dwyer contributed to this report.

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