By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 26 -- Susan E. Rice, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and top U.N. ambassadors Monday that she had not come with orders and that the Obama administration would collaborate more intensively with its international partners.
The tone of Rice's comments on her first day on the job signaled a tenure that will be markedly different from some of her recent predecessors, notably Bush administration appointee John R. Bolton, who derided U.N. headquarters as a bubble and quipped before he was ambassador that "it wouldn't make a bit of difference" if the United Nations lost the top 10 floors of its 39-story building.
"I will listen. I will engage. And I will work to advance the United States interest, recognizing that in many, many instances, our national interests are best advanced when we are working hand in hand with that of others," Rice told reporters after her 45-minute meeting with Ban.
Rice said the United States would engage in "direct diplomacy" with Iran, work to contain global warming and step up U.S. efforts to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza.
She said the United States would continue to work with the five other major powers -- Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia -- that have coordinated international efforts to restrain Tehran's nuclear ambitions using a combination of U.N. sanctions and promises of economic and political incentives.
"We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy, that includes direct diplomacy with Iran as well as continued collaboration and partnership with the P-5 plus one," she said, as the six-nation group is called. "And we will look at what is necessary and appropriate with respect to maintaining pressure towards that goal of ending Iran's nuclear program."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs downplayed the significance of Rice's remarks, saying that "there are no specific initiatives" at the moment to talk to Iran.
"What Ambassador Rice outlined today was simply to restate the position that I think many of you heard the president outline throughout the campaign for the past two years: that this administration is going to use all elements of our national power to address the concerns that we have with Iran," Gibbs said.
Some European diplomats have expressed concerns that the Obama administration might abandon that diplomatic effort in favor of direct negotiations with the Iranian leadership. One European official said that Rice's commitment to working with the international group had reassured them.
Regarding the "ongoing genocide" in Darfur, Sudan, Rice said the U.S. priority for the moment is reinforcing a U.N.-backed peacekeeping mission to protect civilians. She expressed concern that Sudan's government may retaliate against international peacekeepers and aid workers if the International Criminal Court issues an arrest warrant on genocide charges for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.