AMMAN, Jordan – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is defending President Donald Trump’s move to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a decision that has touched off uneasiness among Arab nations on his first tour of the region.
Pence was meeting Sunday with Jordan’s King Abdullah II for discussions that are expected to include the Trump administration’s December decision on Israel’s capital and plans to shift the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The vice president said after meeting Saturday with Egypt’s President Fatah Abdel el-Sissi that he emphasized the U.S. commitment to the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority.
Pence said he assured el-Sissi the U.S. was committed to “preserving the status quo with regard to holy sites in Jerusalem,” and boundaries and other issues would be negotiated between the parties.
“The United States of America is deeply committed to restarting the peace process in the Middle East,” Pence said before departing for Jordan. He said he would be “delivering that message in Jordan, delivering that message in Israel, as well.”
Ahead of his arrival, several dozen Jordanians gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Amman, protesting against U.S. policies in the Middle East.
“America is the head of the snake,” they chanted. Some held up a banner reading: “The envoy (Pence) of the Zionist American right-wing is not welcome.”
The Trump administration’s dramatic policy shift on Jerusalem has posed a dilemma for Jordan’s monarch.
Palestinians make up a large segment of Jordan’s population and the ruling Hashemite largely derives its political legitimacy from its historic role as custodian of Jerusalem’s main Muslim shrine, the Al-Aqsa mosque, which is Islam’s third holiest site.
Any perceived threats to Muslim claims to the city, such as Trump’s shift on Jerusalem, undermine its vital role there.
At the same time, Jordan relies on U.S. military and economic aid — $1.5 billion in 2015 and $1.6 billion last year — at a time of a worsening economic downturn and rising unemployment.
Pence was also expected to meet with U.S. troops in the region on Sunday and then depart for Israel, where he’s scheduled to hold meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, deliver an address to the Knesset and visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
Associated Press writer Karin Laub contributed to this report.