LAS VEGAS (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.
“We told the ayatollahs of Iran they should check the calendar, there’s a new president in the Oval Office,” Pence said Friday addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership conference during Shabbat dinner.
“President Trump will never allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, this is my solemn promise to you,” he said, to a standing ovation in the ballroom of the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, owned by Sheldon Adelson, a major backer of Republicans and pro-Israel causes.
Jewish Republicans, as wells as Israel’s leadership and much of the centrist pro-Israel community, reviled the nuclear deal reached by the Obama administration with Iran which swapped sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. Former President Barack Obama, who also had pledged to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, had said that the deal was the best means of doing so.
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 anti-Semitism. 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.”