U.S. Withdraws Draft On Mideast at U.N.

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 1, 2007

UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 31 -- On Thursday evening, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, had all but persuaded the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution endorsing the agreement Israelis and Palestinians struck in Annapolis this week to work toward a political settlement before the end of 2008. But Friday, the Bush administration did an about-face, abruptly withdrawing the text while Israeli diplomats reiterated their decades-long opposition to a U.N. role in Middle East negotiations.

The blunder, an embarrassing footnote to President Bush's efforts on Middle East, also represented a personal blow to Khalilzad, who has generally won praise among foreign delegates here and in Washington for putting a more collegial face on U.S. diplomacy at the United Nations than did his more combative predecessor, John R. Bolton.

The incident raised the hackles of some State Department officials, who said Khalilzad has a history of diplomatic freelancing and that he had stumbled into his current predicament by failing to adequately consult the Israelis or his boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Khalilzad flew to Washington, where he met with Rice.

"It doesn't look good. I agree with that," Khalilzad said in a telephone interview from Washington late Friday.

Khalilzad said he had consulted "very closely" with Rice before presenting the draft resolution and that his staff had kept the Israeli mission fully informed of U.S. plans. Khalilzad said that Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, became "very upset" when they saw a copy of the text Thursday night. He said they had no problem with the language of the resolution but that they expressed concern "that it would give the U.N. a role" in the peace talks.

"Ultimately, we agreed with their judgment," Khalilzad said.

The United States hosted representatives of 44 countries, including Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, at a peace conference this week in Annapolis. The two leaders agreed to try to conclude an agreement creating a Palestinian state before the end of Bush's tenure. U.S. officials debated whether to follow up by pressing the U.N. Security Council to memorialize the agreement with a formal resolution or an informal statement of support.

Khalilzad said a decision had been made to float the U.S. resolution in a closed-door council session Thursday. He told reporters after the meeting that the draft had received a "very positive" reaction from the council's members. But after hearing initial reservations from the Israeli mission, he said he would have to consult with Israeli and Palestinian officials overnight.

Abbas praised the effort, telling reporters in Tunis on Friday that the U.S. draft was "among the signals about the U.S. seriousness" in the Middle East peace effort.

But Israeli officials disagreed. Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, quickly distanced himself from the plan, telling reporters Thursday evening that he had not been fully briefed on the contents of the resolution. "At the moment, I know very little about it," he said.

Khalilzad's deputy, Alejandro D. Wolff, was given the thankless task of announcing the U.S. reversal outside the Security Council chamber Friday afternoon. Wolff said the United States had decided to withdraw the draft resolution, because there was "some unease with the idea" and that the focus should be on "the potentially historic outcome that will emerge from the Annapolis process."

The State Department concurred. "You know, you take time to consider things, and you take a look at all the positive effects that have come out of Annapolis, and I'm not sure that we saw the need to add anything else," spokesman Sean McCormack said.

The United States has traditionally deferred to Israel's requests to exclude the U.N. Security Council from Middle East peace efforts. It is highly unusual for the United States to propose action in the council without prior detailed discussions with the Israeli government.

Israeli officials said today that they see no need for a U.N. role in the peace process. "It's not the proper venue," said Daniel Carmon, Israel's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, according to the Associated Press. "We feel that the appreciation of Annapolis has other means of being expressed than in a resolution."

But the U.S. retreat disappointed other council members. "We understand the reasons put forward by the United States" for withdrawing the draft, said Jean-Maurice Ripert, France's ambassador. "But we remain convinced that the support of the international community to the process initiated in Annapolis remains indispensable."

In the end, the Security Council agreed to instruct its temporary president, Marty Natalegawa of Indonesia, to give a statement to reporters summarizing the meeting. He said the council shares "an overwhelming sense of welcome to what has happened in Annapolis," and sees "the need to encourage the parties concerned to follow diligently the joint understanding that was reached."

Staff writer Glenn Kessler in Washington contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company