WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Monday that Israeli settlements in the West Bank do not violate international law.

Pompeo said the Trump administration, as it did with recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and Israel's sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights, had simply "recognized the reality on the ground."

In remarks to reporters at the State Department, he said the administration was overturning actions taken late in the Obama administration, which for the first time declined to veto a United Nations resolution calling for the dismantlement of West Bank settlements.

Instead, Pompeo said, the administration said it was returning to policy under the administration of Ronald Reagan, who declined to characterize settlements as illegal but called them "ill-advised" and an obstacle to peace.

Pompeo, however, said the new decision would "increase the likelihood" of a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

A 1978 legal opinion during the Carter administration said that "civilian settlements in those territories is inconsistent with international law."

In response to a question, Pompeo denied that the announcement was tied to upcoming elections in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political life.

“The timing of this was not tied to anything that had to do with domestic politics anywhere,” he said. “We conducted our review, and this was the appropriate time to bring it forward.”