WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday denied that a telephone call from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to President George W. Bush forced Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to abstain in a U.N. vote on the Gaza war.
“There are inaccuracies,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said about Olmert’s remarks Monday night in a speech broadcast on Israeli television and widely reported in the media.
Olmert said he had demanded to talk to Bush with only 10 minutes to spare before a U.N. Security Council vote Thursday on a resolution opposed by Israel calling for an immediate cease-fire.
“He gave an order to the secretary of state and she did not vote in favour of it — a resolution she cooked up, phrased, organized and manoeuvred for. She was left pretty shamed and abstained on a resolution she arranged,” Olmert said.
The White House did not elaborate on the inaccuracies.
But State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who was with Rice at the United Nations last week during debate on the U.N. resolution, said the remarks were “just 100 percent, totally, completely untrue.”
McCormack added that Washington had no plan at the moment to seek clarification from Israel.
In his remarks, Olmert described his call to Bush while the U.S. president was giving a speech in Philadelphia.
“I said, ‘I don’t care. I have to talk to him now,’” Olmert said, describing Bush, who leaves office on January 20, as “an unparalleled friend” of Israel.
“They got him off the podium, brought him to another room and I spoke to him. I told him, ‘You can’t vote in favour of this resolution.’ He said, ‘Listen, I don’t know about it, I didn’t see it, I’m not familiar with the phrasing.’”
Olmert said he then told Bush: “‘I’m familiar with it. You can’t vote in favour.’
Bush was in Philadelphia on Thursday morning and gave a 27-minute speech on education policy that ended at 11:46 a.m. and there was no interruption of the public event.
The U.N. Security Council voted on the Gaza resolution about 10 hours later, shortly before 9:30 p.m.
Arab ministers said after the U.N. vote Thursday that Rice had promised them the United States would support the resolution, but then made an about-face after talking to Bush.
A few minutes before the scheduled vote at the United Nations, Rice’s staff told reporters she would make a few brief comments beforehand, but then abruptly cancelled her press appearance, saying she would instead speak to Bush by phone.
She then entered the U.N. Security Council chamber, huddled with Arab ministers who shook their heads as she spoke to them. Immediately after the vote, Rice left for Washington without talking to reporters.
Rice joined her French and British ministers in drawing up the resolution and the three Western powers haggled with Arab countries for three days over wording, which Rice told the U.N. Security Council she supported. (Additional reporting Paul Eckert and Sue Pleming in Washington and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Doina Chiacu)