Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s team won’t attempt to claw back $75 million in U.S. aid provided to Israel, a department official confirmed Tuesday.
“They’re going to get the money,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters.
Tillerson was reportedly interested in asking Israel to return $75 million allocated by Congress at the end of last year. That would have been a departure of the Trump administration’s policy as recently as May, when the White House pledged that same amount of money to support Israel’s missile defense program.
“Israel is an important, trusted ally of the United States,” Nauert said. “That hasn’t changed and that won’t change. We have a strong relationship with Israel.”
The controversy arose from a memorandum of understanding negotiated between Israel and the United States during President Obama’s second term. Obama’s team touted the $3.1 billion agreement as a major milestone in U.S. support for Israel, but congressional leaders chafed at language contained in the terms of the deal, which barred Israel from requesting additional aid during the lifetime of the deal. Congress added $75 million to the package during the year-end government funding talks.
Tillerson was reportedly arguing internally that the $75 million should be returned. “Tillerson deferred to the opinions of State Department lawyers, who say Israel should hand back the $75 million in order to keep it in line with the Obama-era MOU,” the Washington Free Beacon reported.
The revelation prompted congressional Republicans to mobilize against Tillerson’s reported position.
“As Iran works to surround Israel on every border, and Hezbollah and Hamas rearm, we must work to strengthen our alliance with Israel, not strain it,” Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., told the Washington Examiner. “Congress has the right to allocate money as it deems necessary, and security assistance to Israel is a top priority. Congress is ready to ensure Israel receives the assistance it needs to defend its citizens.”
Nauert declined to confirm or deny Tillerson’s views on the matter, but emphasized that the issue is a moot point. “I know we support the memo of understanding,” she said. “I know that Israel is in a position to be able to get that funding and that is something we support.”
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