WASHINGTON - The State Department on Tuesday flatly rejected an assertion by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he caused the U.S. government to abstain from last week's United Nations resolution on Gaza and that the abstention embarrassed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Spokesman Sean McCormack said the comments attributed to Olmert "are wholly inaccurate as to describing the situation, just 100-per cent, totally, completely not true" and suggested that the Israeli government might want to clarify or correct the record.
Olmert said Monday that Rice had been embarrassed by orders from President George W. Bush to abstain from voting on the ceasefire resolution that she was negotiating. Olmert said he had called Bush - and interrupted him at an event in Philadelphia - to ensure the United States did not vote for it.
"I said: 'Get me President Bush on the phone,' " Olmert said in a speech in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. "They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn't care: 'I need to talk to him now.' He got off the podium and spoke to me."
Olmert said he argued that the United States should not vote in favour of the resolution, and the president then called Rice and told her not to do so. "She was left pretty embarrassed," Olmert said.
McCormack, who pointed out that he was with Rice at the UN during the negotiations and vote, denied Olmert's characterization.
"She was not at all embarrassed or ashamed of the actions that we took," he told reporters. "Secretary Rice's recommendation and inclination - the entire time - was to abstain.... This idea that somehow she was turned around on this issue is 100-per cent completely untrue."
Israel had argued that the Security Council measure calling for a halt to the Gaza fighting - which passed Thursday in 14-0 vote with the U.S. abstaining - was unworkable because it did not guarantee Israel's security.
The approved resolution called for "an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza."
After the vote, Rice said that the United States fully supported the resolution but abstained because it "thought it important to see the outcomes of the Egyptian mediation," referring to an Egyptian-French initiative aimed at achieving a ceasefire.
Still, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said he had been surprised by the U.S. abstention.
"We were told that the Americans were going to vote in favour," he said Friday, a day after the vote.
But when Rice came in to the Security Council chamber, she informed the Saudi foreign minister with an apology that she would abstain and would clarify later that the U.S. supported the resolution nonetheless, according to Malki.
"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," he said.