- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2009

UNITED NATIONS — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was visibly frustrated when the White House told her to veto a resolution demanding a Hamas-Israeli cease-fire - a resolution she had spent three days negotiating.

The White House said its decision reflected an understanding reached between President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Miss Rice persuaded the White House to abstain from voting on the resolution, which passed by a vote of 14-0, said a U.S. official with firsthand knowledge of last week’s events. The official requested anonymity to avoid embarrassing the Bush administration.

Israel and Hamas then ignored the resolution, demonstrating a pattern that routinely bedevils the nominally powerful U.N. Security Council.

The council has a long history of having its resolutions ignored. Recent examples include:

• Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly rejected the council’s unanimous demands that Iran halt uranium enrichment.

• Saddam Hussein accepted U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq with grudging reluctance and often did not provide the full cooperation with them demanded by the council.

• Multiple calls for restraint have gone unanswered by Congo, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Myanmar.

Non-state actors are even less affected: Somali pirates, for example, have shown little fear after their censure by the council.

“We are all very conscious that peace is made on the ground while resolutions are written at the United Nations,” British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said during last week’s negotiations over the Israeli-Hamas resolution.

“Our job is to support … and to encourage changes on the ground that are desperately needed.”

Still, the Security Council has taken an increasing number of hits lately over pronouncements that are increasingly seen as weakly worded, watered down, late or just plain irrelevant.

Diplomats who have served on the council express frustration with their inability to affect pressing issues of peace and security and wonder whether the incoming Obama administration will be able to stop this trend. Last week’s debate was a case in point. As a dozen foreign ministers labored in secrecy in the U.N. basement to reach mutually acceptable language, soldiers continued to fight.

“The council must put an immediate end to the current hostilities,” Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa demanded to little effect. “The 15-member body’s credibility, as well as that of the wider United Nations, is at stake today.”

General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann was so outraged at the council’s fecklessness that he scheduled a meeting of that body to issue the assembly’s own alternative resolution.

Asked what would give the council some clout, specialists are, predictably, divided.

Scores of diplomats said the council would never be taken seriously until it is expanded to include permanent members from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Under most proposals, the membership would swell to at least 26 from the current 15.

That would make the chorus louder, but not necessary more authoritative.

Among the nations with aspirations to hold permanent status: Italy, Germany, Pakistan, India, Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, Egypt, Japan, Libya and Nigeria. Currently, only five nations - the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain - have that position.

Ten other nations hold rotating two-year terms and lack veto authority.

An undecided issue is whether new permanent council members would wield vetoes.

Critics of Security Council expansion warn that with more nations, consensus would be more difficult to achieve.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has issued daily denunciations of the Israeli-Hamas warfare and its toll on civilians, was so frustrated last week that he phoned Mr. Olmert on Friday afternoon and, according to a statement, “expressed his disappointment that the violence is continuing on the ground in disregard of [the] council’s resolution.”

“No one expected the resolution would be like a light switch,” said former New Zealand Ambassador Colin Keating, who now runs Security Council Report, a nonprofit organization that monitors council options and actions.

“Globalization has produced a whole new series of problems,” Mr. Keating said. “It’s time to buckle our seat belts,” said Mr. Keating, who served on the council while at the United Nations.

Negotiations on Gaza predictably shifted back to an effort by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to broker a cease-fire.

Reports on Israeli television said Hamas leaders in Gaza were ready to accept a truce, but the organization’s exiled spiritual leader in Damascus refused.

Talks were to resume in Cairo on Monday.

Meanwhile, Israel made its deepest thrust into Palestinian neighborhoods Sunday and claimed to have killed about 40 militants. Hamas kept shooting rockets at cities and towns in southern Israel.

The Palestinian death toll approached 900, nearly half civilians, Palestinian officials said. Since Israel began its campaign Dec. 27, 13 Israelis, including three civilians, have been killed.

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