Thursday, June 14, 2007

NEW YORK — A retired top U.N. adviser disparaged U.S. policy in the Middle East in a confidential report leaked yesterday, accusing Washington of skewing the work of international mediators in support of Israel.

Alvaro de Soto, who until recently served as the U.N. envoy to the Middle East Quartet and to the Palestinian government, chastised U.N. officials for allowing the Americans to sway the Quartet from a neutral to a pro-Israel posture.

The entire U.N. peace process is “strategically subservient to U.S. policy in the broader Middle East, including Iraq and Iran … a policy that has become discredited,” he said in the report, in which he suggested that the United Nations withdraw from the group.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said he had not seen the document, but attributed its reported findings to the “personal views of an individual,” rather than “the corporate views of the U.N.”

Mr. de Soto, a Peruvian diplomat, said the Bush administration had bullied the United Nations into agreeing to a review of aid and support to the Hamas-led Palestinian government just a month after it was legitimately elected.

He wrote of intense pressure from U.S. envoys David Welch and Elliot Abrams to participate in a strategy of isolating Hamas.

“I was subjected to a heavy barrage … including ominous innuendo” suggesting that if then U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan didn’t agree to review international assistance to the Palestinians, Congress would likely review its funding for the United Nations.

Mr. Annan’s successor, Ban Ki-moon, who received and read the 52-page “end of mission” report last month, stressed yesterday that the report reflected Mr. de Soto’s “personal view.”

“I would not agree with his point that the Quartet has become some kind of sideshow,” he added, arguing that the group — comprising Russia, the European Union, the United States and the United Nations — was in fact “re-energized.”

A senior U.N. official said yesterday that the Quartet will meet on June 26 and 27 in the region, joined by representatives of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Syria and the Arab League.

Around the United Nations — where U.S. and U.N. policy in the Middle East is frequently and passionately discussed — few diplomats wanted to discuss Mr. de Soto’s report, with most saying they had not read it.

Among his observations, Mr. de Soto wrote that the Bush administration had:

c All but hijacked U.N. policy in the region.

c Limited his own ability to deal directly with the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

c Frozen Syria out of U.N. negotiations in which they clearly had influence or an interest.

He also warned that a perception of U.N. partiality toward Israel would discredit peacekeeping efforts and tarnish the office of the secretary-general himself.

Mr. de Soto, who has served in various positions for the United Nations over the last 25 years, also had some harsh words about U.N. policy and organization in the Middle East.

He complained there were too many mediators and too little interest among the various players in coordinating strategy or sharing information.

As the secretary-general’s personal envoy to the Palestinian Authority, Mr. de Soto said he found himself irrationally and “immeasurably hampered” by restraints imposed by Mr. Annan, such as being barred from going to Syria or from having meaningful contact with the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

The United Nations pulled most of its people out of Iraq after a catastrophic bombing of its headquarters in 2003, but it maintains a high profile in the region.

It maintains three peacekeeping missions on Israel’s borders, has fed and housed Palestinian refugees in four countries and the Palestinian Territories since 1949, and runs development projects throughout the region.

The agency dealing with Palestinian refugees suspended its operations in the Gaza Strip yesterday after two of its aid workers were killed in factional fighting.

Mr. de Soto, in New York yesterday for a conference on Central America, said his assessment had been intended only for internal U.N. distribution.

“I did not imagine the report would be made public,” he told The Washington Times, “or I would not have been so candid as, in fact, I was encouraged to be.”

He said he had not received any response to his observations from either the United Nations or the United States. Mr. de Soto said he had nothing to add “because I think I said it all in that assessment.”

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