U.S.: 'Olmert's comments 100-percent not true'
A diplomatic spat is brewing between Israel and the United States over the reasons for Washington's abstention from last week's United Nations resolution on ending the fighting in Gaza, with the State Department issuing a flat rejection yesterday of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's statement that he caused the Bush administration to abstain from voting.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the comments attributed to Olmert "are wholly inaccurate as to describing the situation, just 100-percent, totally, completely not true" and suggested that the Israeli government might want to clarify or correct the record.
Olmert said Monday that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been embarrassed by orders from U.S. President George W. Bush to abstain from voting on the cease-fire resolution that she was negotiating. Olmert said he had called Bush - and interrupted him at an event in Philadelphia - to ensure the United States would not vote for it.
"I said: 'Get me President Bush on the phone,'" Olmert said in a speech in Ashkelon. "They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn't care: 'I need to talk to him now.' He got off the podium and spoke to me."
Olmert said he argued that the United States should not vote in favor of the resolution, and the president then called Rice and told her not to do so. "She was left pretty embarrassed," Olmert said.
McCormack, who pointed out that he was with Rice at the United Nations during the negotiations and vote, denied Olmert's characterization.
"She was not at all embarrassed or ashamed of the actions that we took," he told reporters. "Secretary Rice's recommendation and inclination - the entire time - was to abstain. ... This idea that somehow she was turned around on this issue is 100-percent completely untrue."
Israel had argued that the Security Council measure calling for a halt to the Gaza fighting - which passed Thursday in 14-0 vote with the U.S. abstaining - was unworkable because it did not guarantee Israel's security.
The approved resolution called for "an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza."
After the vote, Rice said that the United States fully supported the resolution but abstained because it "thought it important to see the outcomes of the Egyptian mediation," referring to an Egyptian-French initiative aimed at achieving a cease-fire.
Still, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said he had been surprised by the U.S. abstention.
"We were told that the Americans were going to vote in favor," he said Friday, a day after the vote.
But when Rice came in to the Security Council chamber, she informed the Saudi foreign minister with an apology that she would abstain and would clarify later that the United States supported the resolution nonetheless, according to Malki.
Responding last night, the Prime Minister's bureau insisted that "the PM's statements reflect events that occured."