US/World News

Pence: Trump won’t let Iran go nuclear, may not move embassy

By Ron Kampeas/(JTA) – Vice President Mike Pence pledged to Jewish Republicans that the Trump administration would “never allow” Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, but walked back President Donald Trump’s promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. “President Trump will never allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, this is my solemn promise to you,” Pence said Friday, Feb. 24, addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership conference during Shabbat dinner in the ballroom of the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas. Jewish Republicans, as well as Israel’s leadership and much of the centrist pro-Israel community, reviled the nuclear deal reached by the Obama administration. Pence, notably, did not say the Trump administration would kill the deal, however. Trump’s top aides have said that increasing enforcement of the deal is the better option at this stage.

Pence also substantially walked back Trump’s campaign pledge to move the embassy to Jerusalem, saying the administration was “assessing whether the embassy should be moved,” to tepid applause. Trump himself has walked back his embassy pledge since he assumed office last month, but sending Pence, who for years has been intimately close to the pro-Israel community, to deliver the message to a fiercely pro-Israel audience seemed to put an end to hopes that any move would happen soon, if at all.

Pence also once again reassured the group to “rest assured” that the Trump administration would combat antisemitism. Jewish groups – including some, like the RJC, that have supported Trump – have been alarmed at the perceived insensitivity in the administration to sensibilities about attacks on Jews, particularly in the wake of a spike in bomb threats called into Jewish community centers. Pence recalled his presence this week at a clean-up effort at a Jewish cemetery in the St. Louis area where dozens of tombstones had been vandalized. “Let me be clear, we condemn these vile acts of vandalism and those perpetrated them in the strongest possible terms,” he said. “Hatred and antisemitism have no place in the United States of America.”

Also at the conference, the RJC replaced its longtime chairman, David Flaum, with Norm Coleman, the former U.S. senator for Minnesota. Statements by both men noted Republican successes during the 10 years Flaum, a real estate developer in upstate New York, led the RJC, including last year’s GOP sweep of the White House and both chambers of Congress. The RJC campaigned heavily last year in large Jewish communities in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, helping to keep in place incumbent GOP senators who had been perceived as vulnerable to ouster. Coleman represented Minnesota in the U.S. Senate from 2003-2009. Al Franken, a writer and comedian who also is Jewish, defeated him in the 2008 elections by a narrow margin.

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