Turkey has welcomed Paraguay's decision to relocate its embassy from the contested city of Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu thanked his Paraguayan counterpart Luis Alberto Castiglioni during a telephone conversation for reversing their decision, according to diplomatic sources. Çavuşoğlu also said that this move would reflect Paraguay's commitment to international law. Underscoring that "the move will serve as a model for other countries," Çavuşoğlu noted that Turkey is ready to work closer with Paraguay on the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Paraguay's embassy move, however, has infuriated the U.S. and Israel. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence urged Paraguay's new president to stick to his predecessor's decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Pence's office said on Thursday.
Pence, who played a main role in President Donald Trump's decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, spoke on Wednesday to Paraguayan President Mario Abdo, who was elected on Aug. 15. Pence "strongly encouraged" Abdo to follow through with Paraguay's commitment to move the embassy to Jerusalem "as a sign of the historic relationship the country has maintained with both Israel and the United States," Pence's office said in a statement.
Paraguay's decision was a blow to Israel's efforts to achieve external recognition of Jerusalem. The U.S.' decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been met with widespread criticism across the world. Most countries do not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city and say its final status should be set in peace talks.
President Mario Abdo Benitez, who took office on Aug. 15, decided to move the embassy back "to contribute to the intensification of regional and international diplomatic efforts that aim to achieve a broad, just and durable peace in the Middle East," his government said.
The measure was widely criticized within Paraguay, and Paraguay's Foreign Minister Luis Alberto Castiglioni described it as "unilateral, visceral and without justification." "One of the most complex components of the conflict [between Israel and the Palestinians] is the status of Jerusalem," Castiglioni said, and Paraguay believes it should be negotiated between the parties involved – a position still held by most nations, according to The Associated Press.
The original decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv was taken by Abdo Benitez's predecessor Horacio Cartes shortly after President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would relocate its own embassy to Jerusalem. Cartes opened the new embassy in Jerusalem on May 21. It came only days after the U.S. and Guatemala took similar steps.
The status of Jerusalem, home to sites holy to the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions, is one of the thorniest obstacles to forging a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel claims as its capital all of the city, including the eastern sector that it annexed after the 1967 war in a move not recognized internationally. But the Palestinians want East Jerusalem for the capital of a future state they hope to establish in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Negotiations between the two sides broke down in 2014.