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Wednesday, March 28, 2001, 7:25 AM ET

U.S. Vetoes UN Force Resolution

By CHRIS HAWLEY, Associated Press Writer


UNITED NATIONS (AP) - In its first U.N. veto since 1997, the United States heeded a call from Israel and killed a resolution backing a U.N. observer force to help protect Palestinians, who have largely been the victims in six months of Mideast violence.

Palestinians reacted with disgust to the veto late Tuesday.

``This is unfortunate, especially in the light of the fact that this is a new administration and we were hoping for this administration to demonstrate a more balanced position,'' said Palestinian representative Nasser Al-Kidwa.

But Mary Ellen Countryman, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said Wednesday that the resolution insufficiently addressed that civilians on both sides - Palestinians and Israelis - need to be protected, and was not clear about the responsibility of Palestinian leaders to take concrete steps to end the violence.

``The draft we vetoed was an attempt to begin a process to impose an international force on the parties without the consent of both,'' she said.

After five days of around-the-clock negotiations, the Palestinians had secured the nine votes they needed to pass the measure in the 15-member U.N. Security Council. The four European council members - Britain, France, Norway and Ireland - abstained, and Ukraine didn't case a vote.

Russia provided the necessary ninth vote after switching sides from December, when it abstained along with the United States on a similar measure calling for observer force that failed for lack of votes.

Relations between the United States and Russia have been clouded in recent weeks by tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats over espionage allegations.

Only the five permanent council members - the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain - can issue vetoes, but they try to be sparing with them, in part because vetoes anger less powerful members who are resentful that five countries can essentially dictate U.N. policy.

The United States had tried to avoid using its veto, worried that it would inflame passions in the West Bank and Gaza and infuriate Arab nations. The United States has only vetoed five resolutions since May 1990, all dealing with the Mideast dispute and the last coming in 1997 to quash a demand that Israel stop building a settlement in east Jerusalem.

``The United States casts this vote with great regret,'' said acting U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham. ``It should not have been necessary, and this draft should not have been put to a vote.''

Earlier Tuesday, negotiators had said they were close to a compromise with the Americans on a watered-down resolution calling for the immediate end to six months of clashes between Israel and the Palestinians that have left more than 400 people dead.

The compromise text made no mention of a U.N. observer force to protect Palestinian civilians. Instead, it called on Secretary-General Kofi Annan to consult with the parties ``on setting up a protection mechanism, to contribute to the protection of Palestinian civilians.''

But with word late Tuesday from Washington that it wasn't prepared to sign off on even that text, the Palestinians' allies in the council resurrected their call for U.N. observers and put their own resolution to a vote.

The Palestinians were eager for a result from the council before a summit of Arab leaders in the Jordanian capital, Amman, concludes Wednesday.

Arab diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, say diplomatic efforts are under way with the European Union to find a formula that would be acceptable to the Security Council. The formula would entail some form of international observers but not peacekeeping troops.

Israel had vehemently opposed sending a U.N. observer force and wanted direct talks with the Palestinians instead.

After the vote, Israel's U.N. ambassador Yehuda Lancry cited a series of recent attacks, including the bombings and the shooting death of a 10-month-old Israeli girl, as reasons for why the ``one-sided'' resolution was rightly vetoed.

``The reality of the past 24 hours has gruesomely reminded us that the double-edged sword of this conflict cuts both ways,'' he said.

An hour after the vote, an apparent suicide bombing at a gas station in central Israel killed three people Wednesday, local officials said.

The vetoed Palestinian resolution instructed Annan to consult with the parties and report back to the Security Council. The resolution ``expresses the readiness of the Council to act upon receipt of the report to set up an appropriate mechanism to protect Palestinian civilians, including through the establishment of a United Nations observer force.''

Cunningham said the United States believed that strategy was not feasible without an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

``The United States opposed this resolution because it is unbalanced and unworkable, and hence unwise,'' he said. ``It is more responsive to political favor than political reality.''

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