Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not want Trump to make his Jerusalem announcement Wednesday, but he still has to deal with the consequences. The State Department has set up a 24-hour task force to collect information and coordinate response to Trump’s speech, which has already caused protests at several U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
The State Department’s executive secretariat and bureau of Near East affairs stood up the task force Wednesday afternoon inside the seventh-floor operations center “to track worldwide developments following U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” according to an internal notice I obtained. The task force will include participation from State’s bureaus dealing with diplomatic security, consular affairs, public and legislative affairs and others.
State Department spokesmen did not respond to a request for comment, but other State Department officials told me such a move is typically made to address a security concern or when American lives can be in danger. Examples of past task forces include the Japanese and Haiti earthquakes, the Kenyan elections and the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
“Trump is putting diplomats as well as American citizens at risk,” one official said. “He is putting a bullseye on the U.S. and making Israel a target for more violence right before the holidays, which always is a time for high alerts.”
Two administration officials confirmed that Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis were opposed to the move internally, due to security concerns.
“I think the Secretary has communicated clearly, as have all the members of the interagency who have a role in making this decision or being a part of the decision, he’s made his positions clear to the White House. I think the Department of Defense has as well,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Tuesday. “But it’s ultimately the president’s decision to make. He is in charge.”
The task force went live just as Trump was speaking to the nation about his Jerusalem decision, indicating that the State Department was preparing for fallout ahead of the announcement.
“The safety of Americans is the State Department’s highest priority, and in concert with other federal agencies, we’ve implemented robust security plans to protect the safety of Americans in affected regions,” Tillerson said in a statement issued Wednesday.
The Trump administration consulted partners and allies ahead of the announcement and the State Department will begin moving to implement Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Tillerson’s statement said.
The U.N. Security Council is expected to meet Friday on the Jerusalem issue after eight countries, including France and Britain, asked for a personal briefing from Secretary General António Guterres.
Trump announced the move Wednesday as a promise kept and a step that would actually increase the chances for Middle East peace.
“While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering,” he said. “I’ve judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Update: State Department Spokesman Edgar Vasquez said Thursday in a statement: “We have a task force to monitor information, which is what we do any time there is concern for the safety and security of American citizens or USG personnel. This is us being prudent.”