Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York, US..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said on Sunday he had given instructions to move the Central American country's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a few days after his government backed the United States in a row over the city's status.
The decision comes three weeks after the United States decided to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and four days after Guatemala was one of only nine countries in the UN to vote against a resolution slamming the US move.
"Today I spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu," Morales wrote on Facebook.
"We spoke about the great relationships we have had as nations since Guatemala supported the creation of the State of Israel. One of the most relevant topics was the return of the Embassy of Guatemala to Jerusalem.
"I inform you that I have given instructions to the Chancellor [Foreign Minister] to initiate the process to make it possible. God bless you," he wrote.
Netanyahu said on Friday during an interview with CNN that Israel was in contact with several countries about following the American move, but did not say which ones.
Morales, a former television comedian, is an evangelical Christian whose election in October 2015 was seen by diplomatic officials in Israel as as a harbinger of closer ties both with that Central American state of 16.6 million people, and the region as a whole.
Before his election, Morales had no governmental experience.
Only three of the eight central American countries voted against Israel at Thursday’s UN vote.
Israel has long had good relations with Guatemala, though Morales has brought those ties to a different level. Guatemala was the first Latin American country to vote in favor of partition at the UN on November 29, 1947.
Mattanya Cohen, Israel's ambassador to Guatemala, told Army Radio that the move had to do with the large evangelical population in the country, and the developmental aid it gets from Israel.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon posted a tweet expressing Israel's appreciation. “Thank you Guatemala for your important decision to move your embassy to Jerusalem. Wonderful news and true friendship!!”
Morales, a former television comedian with an important base of conservative Christian support, earlier this year became embroiled in a bitter spat with the United Nations when a UN-backed anti-corruption body in Guatemala tried to impeach him.
Although Morales avoided impeachment, he failed in an attempt to expel the head of the body, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, after criticism from the United Nations, the United States and the European Union.