President Donald Trump boasted earlier this year that the US would spend only $200,000 to $300,000 on a new US Embassy in Jerusalem, but it seems the project will cost nearly $20 million more than that estimate.
The State Department has awarded a $21.2 million contract to the Maryland-based firm Desbuild Limak to design and build “compound security upgrades” for the Arnona building in Jerusalem, according to documents made public this month.
The US spent just under $400,000 on modifications to the consular facility that allowed it to open as the US Embassy in May, but the State Department told CNN at the time that it planned “for construction of a new extension at the interim site as well as for additional security enhancements, at an additional cost.”
A State Department spokesperson confirmed Tuesday that the $21.2 million contract is dedicated to “the design and building of this second phase.”
“As the President stated, the cost of initial modifications made to permit the Embassy to open on May 14 was approximately $400,000. Following the May 14 opening, we have moved on to planning for and construction of a new extension and security enhancements at the interim site,” the spokesperson told CNN.
The $21.2 million award to Desbuild Limak “is dedicated to the design and building of this second phase,” the spokesperson added.
Al Monitor was first to report the cost of the upgrades.
Trump has often failed to mention that distinction – instead highlighting his personal role in cutting costs on the embassy.
Just days before the opening in May, Trump spent roughly 10 minutes of an hourlong speech in Indiana telling the story of how he had saved nearly $999,800,000 on plans to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – claiming the US would spend only “$200,000 to $300,000” versus a $1 billion proposal he said he was initially presented with.
During the same speech, Trump also touted the timing of the embassy’s opening, joking that if he had agreed to the original proposal for a new complex, he would need an “extension on the presidency” to see the project through.
“The new embassy, I said, ‘When is it going to be open?’ ” Trump recalled. “They said, ‘Anywhere between five to 10 years.’ So I said, ‘Unless they give me an extension for the presidency.’ “
He made a similar claim in March while sitting alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office.
“We’ll have it built very quickly. A lot of people wouldn’t be doing it quickly like that. We’re going to have it built very quickly and very inexpensively,” Trump said at the time when asked about plans for the new embassy.
“They put an order in front of my desk last week for $1 billion. I said, ‘A billion? What’s that for? We’re going to build an embassy.’ I said, ‘We’re not going to spend $1 billion.’ We’re actually doing it for about $250,000. So check that out,” he said.
“Now, it’s temporary but it’ll be very nice,” Trump quickly added, turning to a visibly chuckling Netanyahu and saying, “$250,000 versus a billion dollars … is that good?”
While the administration announced its plans in February to designate a US consular facility in Jerusalem as the US Embassy, that space will be only temporary as the US works to identify a permanent site – a process that is expected to take years.
Trump has touted his decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem as a key campaign promise kept, and the move was celebrated by conservative leaders in the United States and Israel. A delegation of senior US officials – including the deputy secretary of state, the treasury secretary and the President’s daughter and son-in-law – traveled to Jerusalem in May to inaugurate the embassy.
But despite officially moving the embassy, Trump was forced to sign a waiver of the Jerusalem Embassy Act just one month later because the US ambassador does not yet have an official residence in Jerusalem – a requirement under the 1995 law calling for the US to move its embassy to the holy city.
On Tuesday, the State Department spokesperson told CNN they had nothing new to announce regarding the ambassador’s residence.
This article has been updated to reflect Al Monitor was first to report the cost of the upgrades.