US on Olmert: His Version on Abstention in UN 'Totally Untrue'
Both the White House and the State Department labeled "untrue" and "inaccurate" a boast by outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he personally called United States President George W. Bush and interrupted him while he was giving a speech.
He claimed he told the President point blank to instruct Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to abstain in a United Nations Security Council vote on a Gaza ceasefire resolution.
Anger at Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for taking credit for forcing Rice to change her intention to back the resolution was behind the Prime Minister's boast, according to Channel 1 television newswoman Ayala Hasson.
However, White House spokesman Gordon Johndore said, "I have seen these press reports, they are inaccurate."
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Tuesday that the Prime Minister's comments "are wholly inaccurate as to describing the situation, just 100 percent, totally, completely not true." He suggested that the Israeli government clarify the remarks.
McCormack, who was with Rice at the U.N., added, "She was not at all embarrassed or ashamed of the actions that we took. Secretary Rice's recommendation and inclination — the entire time — was to abstain." However, she cancelled a press conference before the vote and hurriedly spoke with President Bush, delaying the vote until she returned and abstained.
Reporters covering the State Department linked Olmert's alleged false remarks with criminal probes against him.
"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," commented one journalist at the daily State Dept. press briefing. "And I find it surprising that you’re not – that you’re not trying to get a clarification on these comments."
McCormack has no clear answer. "Perhaps – you know, perhaps we will. I – you know, I can only speak to what we have done. But – and again, all I can offer is – are the facts. I cannot vouch that Prime Minister Olmert was quoted correctly in the story or the context of the remarks at all. You will have to talk to the Israeli Government about that."
All media reports agree that Bush trumped Rice's intentions, but Livni and Olmert, who never have been the closest of friends, each tried to take the credit.
At this week's Cabinet meeting, she complained to Prime Minister Olmert after Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) criticized her for failing to convince the U.S. to veto the U.N. motion. Hasson reported that Prime Minister Olmert ordered the minister not to deal with politics while a war is going on.
The following morning, Livni told Voice of Israel government radio that she spoke with Rice last Thursday night and secured a promise that she would abstain in the vote.
Hasson said that when Prime Minister Olmert heard of her comments, he took the opportunity in a speech in Ashkelon to brag about how he personally interrupted President Bush with a phone call.
"I said, 'Get me President Bush on the phone,'" he explained. "They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I did not care: 'I need to talk to him now.' He got off the podium and spoke to me."
He later told the Associated Press, "She was left pretty embarrassed."
McCormack's comments were challenged by Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki, who said that he was told that the U.S. would back the resolution.