Supporting the UN Mission to the Middle East

Watching the President’s comments this week complaining “about [UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s] approach to the crisis, and for holding the view of many leaders [at the G-8 summit] that Israel and Hamas and Hezbollah should ceasefire and hash out their differences,” one might think that the President is upset about the role that the UN is playing in the current crisis in the Middle East. Nothing could be further from the truth. Monday afternoon White House Press Secretary Tony Snow clarified the President’s position saying that he “has been supportive from the very start of the U.N. mission to the region.”That three-person UN mission, which includes Vijay Nambiar, the Secretary-General’s Special Political Adviser, has arrived in Israel, after “discussing concrete ideas” in meetings with the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament and Prime Minister Fuad Siniora in an effort to diffuse the crisis in the region. Over the next few days, they may return to Lebanon and, perhaps, travel to Syria, Jordan, and the occupied Palestinian territories before returning to brief the UN Security Council. This team’s itinerary and access, along with the level of international support, has once again clearly shown both the ability of the United Nations to perform tasks that no one nation could on its own and its indispensability as the primary instrument for international cooperation, peace, and prosperity.

Wisely, as Tony Snow said on Monday, the Bush Administration has supported the UN mission from the beginning. Statements to that effect have been made by several members of the Administration over the last few days. Secretary Rice, during a press briefing in Germany on July 13, called the Secretary-General’s mission “the best opportunity now for de-escalation of this crisis.” During the same briefing, she spoke to the UN’s central role in formulating a practical solution for the Middle East, noting Security Council resolution 1559 that oversaw “the withdrawal of Syrian forces, and that has tried to bring together an international consensus … about a road ahead for Lebanon … including the disarmament of militias.” Referring to the discussions among the G8, she said:

“Everybody is now very focused on trying to help the U.N. Secretary General’s mission work. And I think we don’t want to send confusing signals. The kind of ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ problem is one that we want to avoid, because the Secretary General has all the right mandates to deal with this issue. I might note, too, that as to the Gaza situation, of course, the U.N. is a member of the Quartet. And so the U.N. Secretary General I think has all the right mandates. Let’s put all of our efforts behind making his effort work.”

National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley echoed Secretary Rice’s statements at the same briefing:

“We hope that the U.N. mission the Secretary talked about can be a framework for going forward, can do a number of things — can increase the pressure on Hezbollah and Syria, who are going to be key in winding this down and getting these hostages back to Israel; can be a vehicle for strengthening the [Lebanese] government and help them ride out this very difficult path; and finally, to be a framework for avoiding further escalation.”

At later press briefings in Russia and on the morning show circuit over the weekend, Secretary Rice and President Bush remained committed to supporting the Secretary-General’s mission to the Middle East. In Russia, Secretary Rice said:

“This is really a time for diplomacy, but it’s not just diplomacy of talking and talking and talking. It’s diplomacy of moving toward a goal of using the diplomatic vehicles — in fact, in the case of the road map, the international vehicle; in the case of the 1559, the Security Council vehicle — that we have established over the last couple of years, and using that now. This is the time to use those vehicles to get results, because those vehicles are going to give us the best outcome for a permanent peace.”