WASHINGTON: The Trump administration is accelerating its transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem with a plan to have the facility ready by 2019, senior officials have said, despite insisting last month that the move would not happen until the end of President Donald Trumps term.
To expedite the move, the US will not build a new structure, but will instead convert an existing consular building in the Arnona neighbourhood of West Jerusalem into the new US mission, the New York Times reported citing officials.
That plan will reduce the cost of the project and allow US Ambassador David M. Friedman and his staff to move to Jerusalem as early as next year.
Friedman had reportedly pressed to move the US Embassy in 2018, according to the Times. But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lobbied Trump on Thursday for more time to upgrade the consular building's security.
The Arnona building is relatively new, though it would need to be secured to allow the Ambassador conduct classified operations, according to the daily.
After Trump announced in December that the US would recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move its Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the State Department estimated that it would take years to complete the move.
That timetable, however, was based on the assumption that a new Embassy building would be constructed.
Trump, a former property developer, has taken a personal interest in the location and cost of embassies.
This month, he said on Twitter that he had cancelled a planned visit to London out of pique that the previous Barack Obama administration had sold "the best located and finest embassy in London for ‘peanuts', only to build a new one in an off location for $1.2 billion".