WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump signed a temporary order on Thursday to keep the US embassy in Israel in Tel Aviv instead of relocating it to Jerusalem, despite his campaign pledge to go ahead with the controversial move.

After months of fierce debate within his administration, Trump chose to continue his predecessors' policy of signing a six-month waiver overriding a 1995 law requiring that the embassy be transferred to Jerusalem, an action that would have complicated his efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The White House insisted, however, that the decision, which is sure to disappoint Israel's US supporters, did not mean Trump was abandoning the goal of eventually shifting the embassy to Jerusalem. But a US official said no timetable has been set.

"The question is not if that move happens, but only when," the White House said in a statement.

With a deadline looming, Trump made the decision to defer action on the embassy “to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, fulfilling his solemn obligation to defend America's national security interests,” the White House said.

Palestinian leaders, Arab governments and Western allies had urged Trump not to proceed with the embassy relocation, which would have upended decades of US policy by granting what would have been seen as de facto US recognition of Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital.

"Though Israel is disappointed that the embassy will not move at this time, we appreciate today's expression of President Trump’s friendship to Israel and his commitment to moving the embassy in the future," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

Taking a harder stance, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a far-right member of Netanyahu's coalition, said delaying the move would "damage the prospect of a lasting peace by nurturing false expectations among the Palestinians regarding the division of Jerusalem, which will never happen."

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a close aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Trump's decision "reaffirms the seriousness of the United States in its efforts to achieve peace."

The status of Jerusalem is one of the major stumbling blocks. Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it, a move not recognized internationally. Israel considers all of the city its indivisible capital.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. Jerusalem is home to sites considered holy by the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions.

Successive US administrations have insisted that Jerusalem’s status must be decided in negotiations.

On the campaign trail, Trump's pro-Israel rhetoric raised expectations that he would act quickly to move the embassy. But after he took office in January, the issue lost momentum as he met Arab leaders who warned it would be hard to rejuvenate long-stalled peace efforts unless he acted as a fair mediator.

Some of Trump's top aides pushed for him to keep his campaign promise to satisfy the pro-Israel, right-wing base that helped him win the presidency. The State Department, however recommended against an embassy move, one US official said.

“No one should consider this step to be in any way a retreat from the president's strong support for Israel," according to the White House statement on the signing of the waiver.

US boosts N Korea sanctions over nuclear program

AFP adds: The US slapped fresh sanctions Thursday on several North Korean entities and officials as well as two Russian companies trading with Pyongyang, adding more economic pressure on the isolated regime over its nuclear weapons push.

The sanctions, which seek to lock the entities and individuals out of the international financial system, took aim at government units and companies that earn much-needed foreign exchange for North Korea and sell oil to the country.

"The United States will continue to target individuals and entities responsible for financing and supporting North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs," said John Smith, director of the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

"Treasury is working with our allies to counter networks that enable North Korea's destabilizing activities, and we urge our partners to take parallel steps to cut off their funding sources."

Thursday's announcement listed Moscow-based Ardis-Bearings LLC and its director, Igor Aleksandrovich Michurin, for business they do with North Korean firm Korea Tangun Trading Corporation.

Tangun was placed on the sanctions blacklist in 2009 for its involvement in North Korea's weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, the Treasury said.

Another Russian firm, the Independent Petroleum Company, has a contract to sell oil to North Korea and "may have" worked to help the country circumvent sanctions, it said.

Also named were North Korean coal and zinc exporters, a Beijing-based North Korean banker, and an intelligence official who had operated under cover in Europe.

The sanctions ban any US entity or person from doing business with those on the blacklist and freeze any assets those sanctions might have in US jurisdictions.