UNITED NATIONS, DEC. 8 -- The Security Council again postponed consideration of a resolution about the Israeli-Palestinian problem today, allowing time for more negotiations between the non-aligned countries and the United States on the wording of the proposal.
The measure had appeared headed for a vote with wording that would have left the United States in a delicate diplomatic quandary. But at the urging of the Soviet Union and other countries that favored further negotiation, the council voted 9 to 4 to adjourn until Monday afternoon.
Security Council members Colombia, Cuba, Malaysia and Yemen had pushed for a vote on a draft resolution they have cosponsored that "considers" convening -- "at an appropriate time" -- an international peace conference aimed at settling Middle East issues.
The four nations voted against the adjournment, which Malaysian Ambassador Ismail Razali said would allow the council to "further dilute what already is a balanced text." France and China abstained.
If put to a vote, the United States was not expected to support the measure, but it was unclear whether it would veto or abstain.
The nonaligned group, led by Razali, expressed disappointment that Washington had failed to go along with the measure, which in essence was a restatement of U.S. policy. However, if passed, it would mark the first time this policy was contained in a council resolution. It also would raise the possibility of an enhanced role for the United Nations in seeking a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is unclear how U.S. failure to support the resolution would be viewed by Arab allies in the international coalition assembled against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Throughout the negotiations, the United States has been at pains not to alienate them by vetoing such a resolution, but also has sought to avoid angering Israel, which opposes an international conference.
The resolution grew out of Israel's refusal to allow a U.N. team to investigate -- as called for in a previous resolution -- the killing of 17 Palestinians by Israeli security forces during disturbances Oct. 8 at Jerusalem's Temple Mount, a holy site for both Arabs and Jews. Among other things, the proposed resolution calls for monitoring events in the occupied territories by U.N. personnel already stationed there.
Diplomats said the proposal had become controversial after erroneous news reports stated that the Bush administration had agreed to convene such a conference. However, the United States has been weighing a much milder proposal that raised the possibility of such a conference.
At issue is a paragraph stating that the council "considers that convening at an appropriate time a properly structured international peace conference, with the participation of the parties concerned, would facilitate the achievement of a negotiated settlement and lasting peace in the Middle East."
Razali, the Malaysian ambassador, said that despite efforts to tone down the language of the resolution, the United States refused to consider including any mention of an international peace conference in the draft. He said Washington proposed instead to mention the conference in a statement from the council president, a move that in the eyes of the nonaligned members rendered the resolution far less substantive.
The proposed statement would say: "With respect to the debate on the occupied territories, the members of the council agree that an international conference, at an appropriate time, properly structured, could facilitate efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement and lasting peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
"However, the members of the council are not agreed that now would be an appropriate time for such a conference."
The proposed statement also would state that the members of the council "categorically reject the concept that there is any linkage between events in the Arab-Israeli conflict and Iraq's aggression against Kuwait."
Consideration of the measure became complicated last month as the United States sought to get the council to approve a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. The United States sought to focus the council's attention on the Persian Gulf issue and to delay consideration of the Palestinian draft in order not to create the impression that the two issues were linked.
"What we said was we would discuss with them next week in good faith the resolution which is now pending -- and which is unacceptable to the United States in its present form -- to see if we can come up with something we can support," Secretary of State James A. Baker III had told reporters.