LONDON — In theory, embassies are usually supposed to be the homes of subtle diplomacy and quiet negotiations. But in the Trump era, they appear to have become the subject of tense public debate more so than in the past.
In the latest case of a U.S. embassy dominating the news cycle, President Trump said on Thursday that he had called off a planned ceremonial visit to Britain. On Twitter, the president cited frustration with what he considered to be a bad real estate deal agreed to by the Obama administration.
“Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for ‘peanuts,’ only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO,” Trump wrote. Meanwhile, British media speculated that the president was shunning the country over fears of mass protests which have delayed prior attempts to schedule a state visit.
The comments added to a growing trail of Trump controversies involving U.S. embassies across the globe which have at times irritated Trump allies abroad and angered his opponents in the United States.
August 2017: Trump thanks Putin for reducing the number of U.S. Embassy and consulates staff in Russia
Last August, the president praised his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, saying that he was “very thankful” to him for deciding to expel over 700 U.S. diplomatic and technical staffers from the country in response to the United States increasing sanctions over the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned I’m very thankful that he let go a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump said at the time. “There’s no real reason for them to go back. I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We’re going to save a lot of money.”
It remains unclear whether Trump’s remarks were supposed to be a joke.
September 2017: U.S. considering closing its embassy in Cuba
After dozens of Americans who had worked in the U.S. Embassy in Cuba reported medical problems, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last September that President Trump was considering the embassy’s closure.
“We have it under evaluation,” Tillerson said at the time. “It’s a very serious issue, with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered, and we’ve brought some of those people home. It’s under review.”
Closing the embassy would be a serious setback to U.S.-Cuban relations. The two countries only recently upgraded their diplomatic relations but President Trump has indicated that he may shift away from the pro-dialogue policy pursued by the Obama administration.
December 2017: Trump recognizes Jerusalem as capital of Israel
Despite strong criticism from the Middle East and carefully worded rebukes from U.S. allies, President Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in early December and announced plans to eventually relocate the U.S. Embassy there, a decision that upended decades of U.S. policy.
Several countries warned that the move would worsen relations between Palestinians and Israelis and spark unrest in the region, even though the protests that ensued were less violent than some had feared. Several nations later announced that they would follow the United States’ lead, but the vast majority of nations remained united in their opposition to the measure.
Given that it took almost a decade to move the U.S. Embassy in London within the same city, the announced opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem would almost inevitably fall into the hands of one of Trump’s successors.