U.S. Rebukes U.N. Official for Sharp Words

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 11, 2009

NEW YORK, March 10 -- The Obama administration scolded the president of the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, saying that his frequent public attacks against the United States and Israel are undercutting the standing of the world's most representative body.

The rebuke comes one day after Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann lashed out at the United States during a visit to Tehran, where he met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other senior Iranian officials. The leftist Nicaraguan priest and diplomat defended Iran's nuclear program as peaceful and said the United States has not cooperated with other countries at the United Nations, according to Iranian news reports.

Last week, d'Escoto also criticized the U.S. imprisonment of five Cuban agents convicted on espionage charges in 2001, and he urged the United Nations' Geneva-based Human Rights Council to look into alleged human rights abuses by U.S.-led forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, charging that "there are over 1 million civilian deaths in Iraq as a direct result of the U.S.-led aggression and occupation."

Mark Kornblau, a U.S. spokesman, challenged d'Escoto's claims on the number of dead civilians in Iraq, saying the former Sandinista foreign minister "has his facts wrong and seems like he is lost in some kind of time warp."

Alejandro Wolff, the second-ranking U.S. diplomat at the United Nations, said D'Escoto "has repeatedly abused his position to pursue his personal agenda, and in doing so he diminishes the office and harms the General Assembly. He is doing the United Nations a disservice by dividing the membership at a time when he should be a unifying force."

The dispute has cast a cloud over U.S. relations with the United Nations just as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had his first White House meeting with President Obama on Tuesday. Ban has made improving relations with Washington one of his chief priorities.

D'Escoto has also criticized Israel, saying it should be targeted with a boycott because of its military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

In an interview last month, d'Escoto said that he admired Obama and that he was prepared to work cooperatively with the new administration. But the relationship has quickly soured. On Monday, d'Escoto told a gathering of Iranian foreign policy experts that "the major problem of the United Nations is the lack of cooperation on the side of the U.S. with the world body," according to Iran's Fars News Agency.

He also said the United States and its Western allies know that Iran has no intention of developing nuclear weapons. His assertion came one day before Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, urged a U.N. Security Council panel to enforce sanctions against Iran because of its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company