Republican Senator Marco Rubio called Jerusalem the capital of Israel, taking a stand on an explosive issue between Israel and the Palestinians.
The fate of Jerusalem is one of the most intractable issues in the Mideast conflict, with both Israelis and Palestinians claiming rights to the city.
In his first official visit to the country, the Florida senator told Israeli President Shimon Peres on Wednesday that Jerusalem is “of course the capital of your country.”
He also reiterated America’s bipartisan support for Israel.
“There is no more important relationship for the United States, perhaps in the world but certainly in the region, than Israel,” Rubio said in a press release. “It’s one that has bipartisan support and I’m proud to say that Republicans and Democrats are united on that.”
Rubio’s visit comes ahead of President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit in March.
The relationship between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama is largely considered to be tense. Critics of the president have said the administration should do more to solidify the relationship with Israel amid Iran’s nuclear pursuits and because Israel is the United States’ closest and oldest ally in the Middle East.
Rubio, considered an emerging leader in the Republican Party and a potential 2016 presidential candidate, said before his departure that the trip is part of his official duties as a member of the chamber’s Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees.
Last week Rubio delivered the official Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address and was on the cover to Time Magazine with the headline “The Republican Savior.” While Rubio’s response won praise, he was ridiculed for reaching over in the middle of his speech to grab a water bottle.
Rubio’s water bottle moment was playfully acknowledged as both he and Netanyahu toasted with water bottles across a table.
Rubio is scheduled to visit Jordan next, where he plans to meet with King Abdullah II and other members of the Jordanian government.
It will be Rubio’s first visit to Jordan and his second to Israel. His wife, Jeanette, is also making the trip, which ends Friday.