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Pompeo triggers outrage with Republican convention address from Israel

Critics accuse US secretary of state of using Jerusalem as a 'political prop' while on an official state visit
The State Department has stressed that Pompeo is speaking in his personal capacity (Reuters/File photo)
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Washington

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will address the Republican National Convention on Tuesday in a pre-recorded message from Jerusalem in a move that has raised the ire of Democrats and sparked accusations of politicising American diplomacy.

The State Department has said that no government resources will be used in Pompeo's speech, which is is scheduled to be aired at the convention on Tuesday night, stressing that the secretary will be speaking in his personal capacity. 

But critics noted that Pompeo is in Israel on an official trip, during which he will use the symbolic skyline of the city of Jerusalem as a backdrop for a partisan speech. 

Former Obama administration official Wendy Sherman, who is a Democratic delegate, called Pompeo's decision "unprecedented".

"At a time when peace and security in Middle East is so tough, Jerusalem should not be a prop for the RNC, and [Pompeo] should not be tarnishing the office of SecState. Unprecedented and wrong," she wrote on Twitter.

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J Street, a liberal Jewish-American group, called Pompeo's move "shameless", saying that the top American diplomat is using Israel as "a political prop and a partisan football". 

"For a sitting Secretary of State to make a partisan speech to a nominating convention is already unprecedented; to do so from one of the most diplomatically sensitive cities in the world, while on an official visit, is breathtakingly wrong," J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement.

He went on to accuse the secretary of state of pursuing a Middle East policy that aims to boost Trump politically, not bringing peace to the region.

"It dangerously seeks to use Israel as the backdrop for extreme ideological symbolism and religious pageantry - with the goal of pandering to the president’s base of Evangelical Christian supporters," Ben-Ami said.

Even pro-Israel Democratic groups denounced the decision, with the Democratic Majority for Israel accusing President Donald Trump and his secretary of state of degrading the US government.

"Trump & Pompeo care only about themselves, not the US, not Israel," the pro-Israel group said in a tweet late on Sunday. 

The convention

Pompeo's address would come a week after Trump admitted that his decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem was to please his evangelical Christian base.

"We moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem. That’s for the evangelicals," The US president told supporters in Wisconsin last week. "You know it’s amazing... the evangelicals are more excited about that than Jewish people. That’s really right, it’s incredible."

On Monday, CNN released a photo of Pompeo appearing to deliver a speech on the rooftop of Jerusalem's King David Hotel, suggesting that it is the address that will be played at the convention. 

Israeli journalist Tal Schneider had reported that Pompeo will tape his speech at the hotel at sunset on Monday after holding meetings there.

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On Sunday, Republican National Committee Chair (RNC) Ronna McDaniel defended Pompeo's decision to record his speech from Jerusalem, calling it "appropriate".

"The events that we've put forward from the RNC and the campaign are going to be paid for by the convention, from the RNC and the campaign," McDaniel told CBS News.

The Republican convention kicked off on Monday, with Trump accepting his party's renomination for president. 

The main stage for the event will be in Charlotte, North Carolina, but most speakers are expected to deliver their speeches remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Republican lawmakers, administration officials, religious officials and Trump family members are expected to address the convention.

The Republican event comes a week after Democrats held their own convention, crowning former Vice President Joe Biden as the party's nominee. 

Trump and Biden will face off in the general election on 3 November.