Costa Rican president lobbies to move embassy out of Jerusalem
By JANINE ZACHARIA
1 August 2002
Former Costa Rican president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar
Arias Sanchez is encouraging his government to transfer its embassy
from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in order to improve the Central American
country's relations with the Arab world.
The campaign has sparked deep concern among Israeli officials and
Costa Rica's Jewish community. Only Costa Rica and El Salvador maintain
embassies in Jerusalem.
All other countries with representations, including the US, keep
their embassies in Tel Aviv, a signal they do not accept Israel's
designation of Jerusalem as its capital.
Costa Rica's embassy has been in Jerusalem since 1963 except for
a short two-year period from 1980-1982. Its decision to house its
embassy in Jerusalem has long been regarded as a symbol of its solidarity
It has, however, also hindered Costa Rica's ability to develop
relations with Arab countries, critics like Arias contend.
Costa Rica's foreign minister, Roberto Tovar, said this weekend
that his country wants to establish relations with all Arab nations
"with which we share democratic principles" and will try
to encourage better economic ties between Costa Rica and the Arab
But Tovar added that Costa Rica's special relationship with Israel
should not suffer as a result, and indicated that the administration
is not exploring transferring the embassy from Jerusalem to Tel
Two sources said Arias has been calling Costa Rican President Abel
Pacheco daily to lobby him on the issue. Arias denied that he has
been pressing hard and played down the significance of his appeal.
"I'm not going to insist," Arias, who sits on the International
Board of Governors of the Peres Center for Peace, told The Jerusalem
Post in a telephone interview.
"Tovar said he's not going to move the embassy. That's it.
This is over. I write from time to time. I just wanted to share
with the Costa Rican people my point of view on this particular
It is unclear why Arias, who founded the Arias Foundation for Peace
and Human Progress, has decided to press for an embassy move now.
Arias was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1987 after authoring
a peace agreement that ended years of armed conflict among five
Central American countries. As a well-known public figure, he travels
This spring he traveled to Lebanon for what Beirut's Daily Star
newspaper described as a private visit. Recently he was a keynote
speaker at a conference in the United Arab Emirates.
In Beirut, Arias told reporters that Costa Rica has "paid
the very large price of being ostracized by the Arab world. It's
an affront we have committed. When one has erred, it befits the
brave to admit the error."
Arias said he did not seek nor receive any support for the embassy-move
campaign during his trips to the Middle East.
Arias said he regrets not having moved the embassy himself when
he was in office from 1986-1990, but notes that his presidency preceded
the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993, after which the political
status of Jerusalem took on heightened significance.
Today, he likens Israel to South Africa during the apartheid years.
"I do admit that perhaps it was a mistake not to transfer,
not to move the embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. I want to be
honest with myself and with the Costa Rican people and everybody,"
Arias told The Post.
Now Arias says it is "urgent" for Costa Rica to make
the move. Arias outlined the reasons for why the embassy should
be transferred in a July 24 opinion piece in the newspaper, Nacion.
"Send a new signal," he wrote. "The first day of
my mandate, I signed a decree breaking my government's diplomatic
relations with South Africa. It was a signal to the entire world
that little Costa Rica was not identifying itself with the apartheid
government in Pretoria.
"Today, 16 years later, I think that our government should,
in the same way, send a new signal to the entire world by making
a necessary rectification to move our diplomatic delegation from
Jerusalem to Tel Aviv until a final solution is found regarding
the new status that the City of Jerusalem should have.
"During many years, we deprived ourselves of having a real
friendship with the Arab world, by maintaining along with just El
Salvador, our embassy in Jerusalem.
"We are too old to continue to be a banana republic,"
Asked why he had a problem with Costa Rica keeping its embassy
in the western part of Jerusalem, which is not in dispute like the
eastern part, Arias said:
"It is not in dispute. I agree. My point is in the past historians
referred to the Central American countries as banana republics,
implying these are countries, nations with governments without any
"It was very pejorative. Why then does only Costa Rica and
El Salvador need to keep their embassies in Jerusalem and not the
rest of the world," Arias said.
"It is not wise to alienate 1.2 billion Muslims," he
added, in remarks to The Post.
There are signs the new administration may feel the same way, despite
Tovar's comments this weekend.
Back in May, shortly after President Pacheco took office, and prior
to Arias's campaign, a rumor spread among Costa Rica's Jewish community
that the new president was considering moving the embassy and sending
a Jewish ambassador to soften the blow.
When word reached Jerusalem, a senior Israeli official arranged
a meeting with Foreign Minister Tovar on the sidelines of a gathering
of the Organization of American States in Barbados.
During that meeting Tovar never once raised the possibility of
transferring the embassy, which reassured the Israeli official that
a move was not imminent. But Tovar, according to diplomatic sources,
stressed Costa Rica's desire to better relations with Arab countries.
The Israeli official and Tovar explored gestures that Costa Rica
could make to the Arab world, short of transferring the embassy.
And Tovar raised the theoretical possibility of establishing a Costa
Rican representation in Ramallah.
Costa Rica has ambassadorial-level relations with Morocco and Egypt,
though there is an Arab League ban on Costa Rican products. The
embargo is not rigidly enforced, however.
The Costa Rican Jewish community is jittery about Arias' call to
move the embassy out of Jerusalem.
One member of the Jewish community in San Jose said they have "assurances
that relations between Costa Rica and Israel will be as close as
ever and will be improved."
But he added that he does not believe Arias will abandon his effort.
"He is persistent," the source said.
Israel is concerned that Costa Rica could bend to pressure to move
the embassy and that tiny El Salvador while a strong supporter of
Israel would be incapable of remaining the sole embassy in Jerusalem.
Both Costa Rica and El Salvador say they respect Israel's right
to choose its own capital and celebrate their support for the Jewish
state. They have also reaped benefits, including the admiration
and support of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, which traditionally
helps Israel's friends.
American Jewish delegations have frequently traveled to both countries
to express gratitude to the leadership.
"Costa Rica stands out as a dear friend of the Jewish people
and a stalwart ally of Israel," David Harris, executive director
of the American Jewish Committee, said during a 2000 visit to Costa
"We are coming to San Jose to express in person our deepest
appreciation for Costa Rica's remarkable friendship and support,
exemplified by its laudable decision to establish its embassy in
Israel's principal ally, the US, is mandated by Congress to move
its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
But both former president Bill Clinton and President George W.
Bush have delayed the move repeatedly, arguing that opening the
embassy in Jerusalem would prejudge final status negotiations over
the city's future and that it would not be in US national security
interests to do so.
shuts its embassy
By JANINE ZACHARIA
1 August 2002
Paraguay has closed its embassy in Israel, in an apparent reaction
to Israel's decision to close its embassy in Asuncion for budget
Citing his country's own budget problems, Paraguayan Foreign Minister
Jose Antonio Moreno wrote Foreign Minister Shimon Peres that Paraguay
was compelled to temporarily close its embassy, located in Mevaseret
Paraguay wants to strengthen the friendly relations between the
two countries, Moreno said. A newspaper in Paraguay reported that
the embassy's operations would be moved to Vienna.
Israel shut its embassy in Paraguay in April and transferred its
ambassador to Bolivia.