(May 14, 2018 / Israel Hayom) “This is extraordinarily meaningful. One of the most important moments that I’ve experienced,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin describes the upcoming ceremony inaugurating a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, scheduled for Monday.
On Dec. 6, U.S. President Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, breaking with decades of policy, and declared that he would relocate the American embassy, as he had vowed to do in his presidential campaign.
For Mnuchin, an enthusiastic Zionist and member of a prominent Jewish family, this event is the highlight of the process that he has been party to since Trump’s campaign. In Mnuchin’s view, this event represents the singularity of interests that Israel and the U.S. share and the strong affection that the 45th president feels toward the Jews and toward Israel.
“I couldn’t be prouder to be here, to be representing the president, to be part of this administration, to be witnessing this historic moment that should have been done long ago,” Mnuchin tells Israel Hayom in an exclusive interview, concealing a thinly veiled barb at Trump’s predecessors, who never fulfilled their promises to Israel.
With his remarks, he underscores the message that has been relayed by a number of administration officials in recent days: The relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is something the U.S. wants to do, it is not meant to appease Israel or to pressure Israel into making concessions.
The delegation that Trump dispatched to Jerusalem to mark the event includes quite a few high-level officials, including Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump, who also serves as an official adviser to the president. But there is no doubt that Mnuchin, as a member of Trump’s cabinet and the fifth in the line of succession for the presidency, is the obvious representative of the presidential institution.
In Jerusalem on Sunday, it was clear that Mnuchin is well-aware of the magnitude this entails, even if he is not officially the head of the delegation (the delegation is officially headed by Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan because of a unique situation whereby the officials are not guests of the State of Israel but rather of the U.S. State Department, here to inaugurate a new embassy).
Q: Did the president personally ask you to come here?
Q: Are you, as secretary of the treasury, planning to personally ensure that the administration has the necessary budget and means to build a permanent embassy in Jerusalem?
“That would be handled more by the State Department. But since I’ll be coming here every year, I’ll be meeting with the ambassador and getting briefed on it.”
Q: Do you feel that American public opinion backs the administration and supports this move? Do the American people feel that this is a fulfillment of their will?
“Absolutely. These are the issues that the president campaigned on, and that he won on.”
Q: Do you think that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played a part in the relocation of the embassy?
Q: Were there other people who played a role?
“There were plenty of people. One thing that I would say that is great about President Trump is that he is willing to listen to lots of different views. Even if he thinks something, he is willing to listen to different views. There are plenty of people who came and had views about moving it, there are people who had views on the timing of moving it. Clearly, it was his decision to move and his decision when to move it, but absolutely, he listened to Bibi [Netanyahu’s nickname] and to many other people.”
Q: While most people think that this is a historic move, many commentators are very skeptical. They have been saying over the last few weeks that after the embassy is relocated, the United States will enact tough steps against Israel and make demands in the framework of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the “ultimate deal” that the president is putting together. Should Israel be worried?
“This administration, President Trump, especially Jared Kushner, Ambassador Friedman, Jason Greenblatt and others are leading a process that we hope will finally lead to a long-term and lasting peace. That is what we’re trying to do and what we are very hopeful can finally be accomplished.
“There are plenty of things that people have said couldn’t be done. Six months ago, a lot of people questioned whether we’d see North Korea sit down, whether North Korea would really be willing to give up nuclear weapons. We’re bringing a new approach to this and we want solutions.”
Q: I have to ask you about the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. As treasury secretary, when do you think Iran will begin feeling the economic pressure?
“First of all, I think that’s another important decision. I think, again, the president has been very transparent: He said during the campaign and when he entered office what his objectives were and what he was going to do, and he has been fulfilling these objectives.
“As it relates to the Iran nuclear deal, the president gave this deal time, he wanted to be careful. He gave it time to work with our allies to fix it. We couldn’t do that, and he was very clear: If we couldn’t fix the agreement, he was going to terminate the agreement. And he’s done that. He’s instructed me to put in sanctions.
“Sanctions go in immediately. Nobody can do new business, but we have what’s called wind down and maintenance, so existing contracts can be completed.”
Q: Does the administration believe that these sanctions can make the Iranian regime collapse from within?
“The purpose of the sanctions is to fix the Iranian nuclear deal. That is the objective. We do think the sanctions work—it is the reason why they came to the table last time to negotiate—we believe in the power of sanctions and that’s why we’re doing it.”
Q: Can the sanctions on Iran be effective without European participation?
“Yes, it can be effective, because the sanctions regime has what’s called primary sanctions and secondary sanctions. The sanctions regime requires me to enforce the secondary sanctions not only against Iran, but against other countries, to adhere to them.”
Q: Is the example of North Korea proof that sanctions work?
Q: What would you say if I told you that many Israelis feel that the current American administration is the best thing that has happened to Israel in a long time?
“I would say absolutely, it is.”
Q: What is the Trump administration’s long-term vision for the next decade in regard to globalization and free trade?
“We’ve been very clear since the campaign that a major part of Trump’s platform was economic growth and creating better opportunities and better careers and better wages for the American public. A good U.S. economy is good for the rest of the world.
“We’ve described our economic plan as having three components: Tax reform, which we got done—it was the first time in 30 years there was a comprehensive change to our tax system—regulatory relief, which we’ve been busy on for the last year, and trade.
“The president believes in free trade, but the president believes in fair and reciprocal trade. What we’re trying to do is make sure that American companies and American workers have the same opportunities abroad that other countries have in the U.S. If you look at many cases where we have big trade deficits with other countries, it is either because we have tariffs or non-tariff barriers.”
Q: Is private and public debt the most dangerous threat to the American economy in the long term, and can the United States obtain significant growth on a permanent basis?
“No, it is not the greatest threat, and yes, we can have significant growth. You have to look at our debt relative to GDP. I’d say we’re probably in the middle of the range, in terms of debt to GDP, and the most significant way of reducing the debt issue is to grow the economy, that’s what we are focused on. That’s what will grow the economy, grow government revenues and reduce the deficits.”
Q: In the trade war between the United States and China, can both sides emerge victorious?
“First of all, let me comment: It is not a trade war, it is a trade dispute. It’s a dispute. President Xi [Jinping] and President Trump have a very good relationship. That’s been very clear since their first meeting at Mar-a-Lago. Our objective has been to reduce the trade deficit. We haven’t made enough progress over the last year, and the president has made it clear to us that we need results.
“I’m hopeful that we can resolve these issues, but these are trade disputes, not trade wars.”