Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel was widely reported as saying that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been forced to abstain from a UN resolution on Gaza that she helped draft, after he placed a phone call to President Bush.
“I said, ‘Get me President Bush on the phone,’ ” Mr. Olmert said in a speech in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, according to The Associated Press. “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,’ ” Mr. Olmert continued. “He got off the podium and spoke to me.”
Gee, I hope 43 did not interrupt his speech and get off the podium for some phone-talk, but on January 8, the same day when 14 of the 15 United Nations Security Council’s members voted in favor of the resolution (with only the US abstaining), President Bush was indeed giving a speech -- on the No Child Left Behind Act at the General Kearny School. In Philadelphia.
That's not giving me a very warm feeling here, you understand. The tenor of that story as reported does not even suggest a partnership but an unequal relationship with one party having enough influence to summon the other to get off the podium to talk. Then I saw this picture above and I thought - oh. my! Golly! At the Daily Press Brief the following day, our Mr. McCormack had his hands full:
QUESTION: Yeah. Given Prime Minister Olmert’s comments yesterday, why should – why should anyone still – or why should anyone not believe that Israel is controlling U.S. foreign policy as it relates to the Middle East?
MR. MCCORMACK: I did see the reports of his comments, and let me just start off by saying I don’t know the context of the comments. I don’t know if they are reported accurately. I don’t know if the Israeli Government would say, yes, that is an accurate quote.
What I can tell you is that the quotes as reported are wholly inaccurate as to describing the situation – just 100 percent, totally, completely not true. And I can – you know, I can vouch for that, having been up there at the United Nations the entire time, witnessed Secretary Rice’s deliberations with her advisors. I knew about the phone calls that she was doing and I can tell you a couple things.
One, very early on in the process, as far back as Wednesday, the Secretary decided that we were – we, the United States, weren’t going to be put in a position of vetoing a resolution, made the decision to support going forward with a resolution. At that point, there was a debate whether or not we were going to try to get a presidential statement or a resolution. We decided that point – at that point that we were going to go for a resolution and we weren’t going to be – if we could get one that was agreeable to all the members of the Security Council, we weren’t going to be in a position to veto it.
Second, that afternoon, all that afternoon, Thursday afternoon, Secretary Rice’s recommendation and inclination the entire time was to abstain, for the reasons that she described both during the Security Council session and subsequently in interviews. So I can tell you with 100 percent assurance that her intention was 100 percent to recommend abstention. She, of course, consulted with Steve Hadley at the White House as well as with the President. I’ll let the White House describe any interactions between the President and Prime Minister Olmert. But – so this idea that somehow she was turned around on this issue is 100 percent, completely untrue.
That, of course, was not enough to feed the fish. So here’s more:
QUESTION: How could the prime minister of Israel get such a – you know, how – he certainly is under the impression that he singlehandedly prevented the United States from voting for this resolution. […] QUESTION: Have you asked for clarification from the Israelis about these comments? […] QUESTION: Well, this is the elected leader of – under – indicted – albeit, you know, one with corruption charges pending against him – of your – the elected leader of your closest ally in the Middle East. And I find it surprising that you’re not – that you’re not trying to get a clarification on these comments. […] MR. MCCORMACK: Perhaps – you know, perhaps we will, Matt. I – you know, I can only speak to what we’ve done. But – and again, all I can offer is – are the facts. I can’t vouch that Prime Minister Olmert was quoted correctly in the story or the context of the remarks at all. You’ll have to talk to the Israeli Government about that.
Talk. Talk. Talk. On U.S. power and sovereignty in the Arctic, Gazprom, North Korea, Egyptian negotiations, and then back to the Ehud dish that Matt was just not willing to let go:
QUESTION: – I think the diplomacy is – it’s over my head, at least. Why would the Secretary work so hard for three days on something that she planned not to vote for (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, you are – no, that’s not what I said. I said that we were –
QUESTION: Is this (inaudible).
MR. MCCORMACK: On Wednesday, she decided we’re not going to be put in the position of vetoing a resolution, so it excludes that possibility. So you have two possibilities left: voting for it or abstaining […]
QUESTION: Well, how could voting for it have hindered –
MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, you’ve – we’ve gone over this how many different times round and round?
QUESTION: Yeah, but --
MR. MCCORMACK: You’re venturing into flagellum equus mortuus territory. Look, I tried to explain it as best I can.
QUESTION: Tell the entire world that this is beating a dead horse. It’s not.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I’m not – no, Matt, look, I’ve answered – I’m only trying to point out I have answered this question, or tried to answer this question, many times.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) resolution to begin with. You wanted a presidential statement. Then when the Arab foreign ministers said that they would not leave without there being a resolution, you decided – is this correct – you decided that, yes, you would work and –
MR. MCCORMACK: Any – Matt –
QUESTION: – work toward a resolution. At that point, you had already decided that you wouldn’t vote for it?
MR. MCCORMACK: That’s not what I said, Matt.
QUESTION: That’s why I’m asking.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I tried to explain it the best I can. You can go back in the transcript and read it.
Ok, plus points for Matt for the quick catch/return fire on Sean’s Pig Latin. Minus points for Sean for showing off with Pig Latin instead of classical Latin. And for that “go back and read it” comment; sounds churlish and all - the other guy (“diplomacy is – it’s over my head”) was hungry for -- clarity, is the word I think. It’s like saying “I already feed you, go back and eat your food again.”
In any case, on January 14, Secretary Rice responded to Olmert’s take, as quoted by Haaretz Service: "And I was quite aware of the President’s call to Prime Minister Olmert. Of course, Prime Minister Olmert is not at all aware of what the President said to me. And I repeat, his rendering of this is fiction if, in fact, that was his rendering of it. And I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it's not exactly what he said."
We may have to wait for one or the other's book for the true rendering of who said what to whom on this thing. Might merit more than half a page. Or not. I think I’ll pass.
Update: In her interview with the WaPo Editorial Board on January 12, Secretary Rice was asked about Israel's influence:
On the Olmert flap, this is what she said:
QUESTION: Well, what about the fundamental question (inaudible), which is --
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Israel --
QUESTION: (inaudible) when the United States comes up against Israel’s strong political will, America accedes.
SECRETARY RICE: That’s simply not true. The fact is that – have we defended Israel’s right to defend itself? Yes. Do we believe that there is a – that the only answer here is the two-state solution? Yes. Did we work with our Israeli friends, who are our friends, to find a way to get the Israeli body politic more solidly behind a two-state solution through the Roadmap and through work with Ariel Sharon? Yes. Do we believe that the terrorists, Hamas and Hezbollah, are of the same ilk because they kill innocents wantonly, as any other terrorists? Yes. I admit those aren’t popular positions in quarters in the Arab world. But we don’t take them because they’re Israeli positions. We take them because they are American positions. I don’t think any Secretary has actually been more outspoken about the settlement issue. And I’ve been very outspoken about it and I think we’ve been very clear that Israel ought to stop its settlement activity, which is provocative.
But it’s simply not the case that if Israel wants it, the United States does it. There are very often times when American and Israeli views of interest are congruent. There are also times when they are not. And when they are not, we act (inaudible).
You think folks would let this story die on the vine now?
SECRETARY RICE: You know that the President and I have the kind of relationship in which we go back and forth and come to a decision.
QUESTION: We have – I had heard that you had actually recommended voting for the resolution and that Prime Minister Olmert spoke to the President and was quite hot under the collar about that, and that was where the abstention decision came from.
SECRETARY RICE: The abstention was an option that the President and I discussed, and I’m not going to talk about anything more than that but to say that I think you know my relationship with the President. And the President and I have a relationship in which we can discuss these things and come to the best option, which is what we did.