Yesterday, reports surfaced that President Bush ordered Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to abstain from voting for a UN ceasefire resolution on Gaza due to pressure from Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert. “I told him the United States could not vote in favor. It cannot vote in favor of such a resolution. He immediately called the secretary of state and told her not to vote in favor,” Olmert said.
An unnamed State Department official was quoted yesterday saying that it was Rice’s “recommendation all along” to abstain from the vote. Yet, ministers from Arab states said Rice had promised the U.S. would support the resolution “but then made an apparent about-face after talking to Bush.”
Now, the White House is disputing the reports, but won’t say what it is disputing. This morning, spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the reports on Olmert’s phone call to Bush “are inaccurate,” but did not specify the inaccuracy. And in the White House press briefing today, deputy press secretary Tony Fratto not only echoed Johndroe, but quickly moved on to another question when a reporter asked him to specify the inaccuracies in Olmert’s account:
FRATTO: Look, I think I’ve seen some of the reporting on this. I want to say that some of what we’ve seen is not accurate. [...]
Q: When you say reporting on this, I mean, these are actually Olmert’s words. I mean, he actually said this.
FRATTO: Yes, there are inaccuracies.
Q: In what Olmert said?
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack today avoided specifics all together, saying everything Olmert said isn’t true. Olmert’s comments “are wholly inaccurate as to describing the situation, just 100-percent, totally, completely not true,” he said, adding that “[t]his idea that somehow she was turned around on this issue is 100-percent completely untrue.”
Still, some Arab ministers said they were surprised by Rice’s abstention. “We were told that the Americans were going to vote in favor,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said. “What happened in the last 10 or 15 minutes, what kind of pressure she received, from whom, this is really something that maybe we will know about later.”