- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2002

Syrians out of step
The Syrians may be regretting their desire to serve on the Security Council.
The delegation ended up in a tight spot last Tuesday, when the Americans unexpectedly offered a Middle East resolution that had the enthusiastic support of the rest of the council but fell short of the demands long established by Damascus.
At the end of the night, the council passed a landmark resolution acknowledging a Palestinian state "within secure and recognized borders."
Although many Arab diplomats welcomed the resolution, including the Palestinians, the resolution passed with the sole Arab voice on the 15-member council abstaining.
Council members generally dread taking up the Middle East because there is so little a divided council can accomplish. The Americans have historically refused to allow a resolution, saying that conflict has to be settled by the parties themselves.
Despite the horrifying images on television and in their telegrams, diplomats said last week, they had expected to hit the usual impasse and stall out.
A Syrian-Jordanian draft resolution was on the table Tuesday afternoon, with what Washington considered unduly harsh language, when the American delegation offered its own version.
As the evening wore on, Arab envoys gathered in the council anteroom, monitoring the progress and updating their capitals via cellular telephone.
Diplomats said afterward that they were suprised and delighted by how open and flexible the Americans were to changes, including the call for greater respect for international humanitarian law. Although Ambassador John Negroponte had to slip out early in the evening for a scheduled speech to conservative Jewish groups, Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham continued to work the room, according to people who were there.
At one point, they said, Mr. Negroponte had Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on the phone to hash out the 11th hour language on the "vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders."
"We were pleasantly surprised," said one council envoy, adding that previous U.S. administrations had refused to take such a constructive lead. In drafting sessions, he noted, it is easier to add language than to remove it.
The lone holdout was Syria, a nation so long at war with Israel that its diplomats usually refuse to even say its name, prefering "occupied Palestine."
Syrian Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe denounced it as "a weak resolution that fails to deal with the root cause of the problem namely the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories." He said he was rejecting the resolution on behalf of the Arab states although many Arab diplomats who waited out the deliberations said they were pleased with the text and would embrace it.
Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian representative here, called it "a significant step."

U.S., U.N. get along
Asked last week to evaluate the current state of U.S.-U.N. relations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan could scarcely suppress a smile.
"I think it is quite healthy for the moment," he told reporters. "I think we have good relations."
Nonetheless, he did manage to get in a plea for longer and stronger U.S. commitment to the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

A parable on film
The grim Bosnian comedy "No Man's Land" may not win Oscar for best foreign picture next weekend, but it does manage to distill the Balkan war into a riveting 90 minutes and lay waste to the notion of neutrality.
The story concerns a new Serbian recruit and a Bosnian volunteer who are stranded in an abandoned trench between the two front lines. A Serbian officer has boobytrapped the trench by laying a wounded Bosnian soldier atop a pressure-release land mine: Whoever moves him will kill everyone for yards around.
The dynamics of the conflict are laid out with almost storybook simplicity, and by changing the accents, the story could probably apply to most of the senseless conflicts around the world.
But "No Man's Land" is rooted in a verdant Balkan spring, with a familiar cast of supporting characters that transcend their stereotypes.
It's doubtful the members of the academy will choose such a small and gritty film over the pastel romantic fantasy "Amelie," but Danis Tanovic's film is well worth renting unless movie theaters book it.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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