Washington — In a January 5 conference call with members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Bolton said that it was “probably” a mistake to allow the U.N. to assume a lead role in the Quartet, the diplomatic entity sponsoring the road map peace plan. Bolton was addressing the recent assertion by the new U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a top priority because it could help lead to the resolution of other regional conflicts.
“That’s not something that’s really in his remit at the present time,” Bolton told the Aipac activists. “As secretary general he has a role in the Quartet, which is probably something we shouldn’t have set up to begin with, but it’s there.” Bolton also accused Russia of preventing serious U.N. sanctions from being imposed on Iran, and said that the U.N. force in Lebanon had failed to stop the flow of weapons to Hezbollah.
The conference call with Aipac was supposed to be an off-the-record briefing, but a full recording of it was leaked to the “Power Line” blog.
This appears to be the first time that a senior official or former senior official has suggested publicly that the U.N. should not be a part of the Quartet, which also includes America, Russia and the European Union. The Quartet was established in April 2002 by then-secretary of state Colin Powell as the main international vehicle for promoting an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. While the America is seen as the major pro-Israel force in the Quartet, the three other members tend to stress the need for concessions on both sides in order to bring about a deal.
Bolton said that he disagreed with the secretary general’s remarks about Israel, but cautioned against putting too much stock in them. “I wouldn’t necessarily read it as a reflection of long and deep thought about the Middle East,” Bolton said. “I think it is passing on what he is hearing in briefing and conventional wisdom, and therefore something that we need to try and work on to turn around.”
Bolton ended his stint as ambassador to the U.N. in last month, after Democrats and a former Republican senator, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, blocked attempts by Bush to approve his nomination for a full term. Bolton, who served only a year as U.N. ambassador, is known for his hawkish views regarding Iran, Iraq and the Palestinians. He was also a vocal critic of the U.N.’s policies.
Jewish groups have voiced disappointment over Bolton’s departure, arguing that he is a strong supporter of Israel. An aide to Bolton said he would not comment on the published remarks, saying that “his comments speak for themselves.” Aipac also had no comment.
During the conference call, Bolton also said that the sanctions recently imposed on Iran by the U.N. Security Council were “very disappointing” because they were not stiff enough to derail Tehran’s nuclear program.
“I’m a private citizen, and therefore [A] free man again, and these are my personal views now,” Bolton said in the conference call before turning to an all-out attack against the Russian diplomacy on this issue. “In many respects, the Russians did an outstanding job, from their point of view, in protecting Iran, in narrowing the scope of the sanctions, of limiting the effectiveness of many of the things we wanted to do.”
According to Bolton, Russia advised Iran that the sanctions were insignificant, convincing Tehran to be restrained in its response. Bolton predicted that soon America will have to confront the fact that the sanctions approved will not stop or slow down Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. He also offered a grim assessment of the situation in Lebanon, accusing the newly revamped United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon of not stopping Hezbollah’s efforts to smuggle weapons.
“There is no doubt that Syria and Iran have very substantially re-supplied, rearmed the Hezbollah,” Bolton said. “These re-supplies have come across the Syria- Lebanon border, and the Unifil people have done essentially nothing about it.”
The Bush administration initially agreed that the U.N. force would only attempt to block Hezbollah from rearming. But now, Bolton said, the United States should push for an effort to disarm the Shi’ite militant group.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.