Amb Susan Rice Wants to Engage

27 01 2009

At her first presser yesterday as the newly minted United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice raised eyebrows when she said she looked forward to “engaging in vigorous diplomacy, that includes direct diplomacy with Iran.” To many, this sounded as if President Obama was willing to sit down and have tea with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions. But this is very unlikely to be the case.

Ambassador Rice was probably referring to the need to engage Iran on a number of fronts including their support for Hamas in the Palestinian Territories, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Shiite factions in Iraq. Who knows maybe how they might be helpful in eliminating a resurgent Taliban, in Afghanistan, a persistent irritant to the government in Tehran well before the American invasion.

For his part, President Obama himself in an interview with Arab television network Al Arabiya noted that while Iran has not always behave in ways “conducive to peace and prosperity in the region” it is still important “for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are.” He also went on to say, “And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us. So, it seems for now the president is content with simply keeping the lines of communication open in laying the ground work for more robust diplomacy.

Ambassador Rice also took time to remark on the on the war in the Gaza strip. Ambassador Rice prefaced her remarks regarding the ceasefire with expressing concern for the humanitarian situation in Gaza. “…with respect to Gaza, let me say that you have heard the President speak very forthrightly about his grave concern about the current humanitarian crisis,” she told the UN press corp.

Perhaps this seems small but its important to note that her comment did not begin with reiterating the already broadly accepted and frequently invoked claim that Israel has a right to self-defense. Instead she began discussing the humanitarian situation and calling for a “durable cease fire” that would ultimately lead to “border crossings to open and be available for humanitarian as well as day-to-day economic development imperatives.”

This is a striking different tune that what Bush administration has and have said. Amb. Rice’s predecessor, Bush appointee John Bolton, recently argued out-going Secretary of State Condi Rice at the UN Security Council should have vetoed instead of abstaining from voting on the cease fire measure, which would have killed its passage. Anything short of a veto would have been an abdication of our “international leadership role.”

Interestingly enough, Ambassador Rice was not asked whether or not the U.S. will participate in the World Conference on Racism, also known as Durban II or about the U.S. joining the U.N.  Human Rights Council. She was, however, asked about it at her Congressional confirmation hearing earlier this month.

According to the transcript, Senator Bill Nelson expressed his disappointment with how the Durban Conference “got sidetracked on attacking Israel rather than dealing with human rights” only to further complicate Mid-East politics in general. He also commented on how the U.S. should be prepared to reassess its participation in the Human Rights Council if certain countries are going to use that body, along with Durban itself, as “a tool to beat up on one of our allies or if it becomes an objective to undermine U.S. policy.”

In her reply, Dr. Rice astutely sidestepped making any specific remarks about Durban and simply sought to reassure Nelson that she and everyone else in the incoming administration took Israel’s security seriously. She then quickly pivoted to strongly criticizing a resolution on a Gaza cease fire that originated in the Human Rights Council, which enjoyed the support of many African and Arab countries, but not much from Western nations.

News reports say that the Human Rights Council resolution mainly focused on human rights violations in Gaza by Israel and encouraged the UN to do fact finding regarding those abuses. Rice said the resolution was “a classic example of the utterly imbalanced and reprehensible kinds of resolutions that have, too often, emerged from the Human Rights Council.”

(Note: the Human Rights resolution that passed on Jan 12th is different from the UN Security Council resolution that passed on Jan 8th almost unanimously save the lone abstention by the U.S.)

By the same token, it was clear that Rice errs on the side of engaging in the UN process even if the problems seem intractable. Referring to the outcome of the resolution, Rice said at the hearing it “just begs the question of what might have been different with U.S. participation and leadership. It seems to me hard to imagine that we would not have sought to work with, and indeed prevail upon, many of our allies to stand with Canada and with us in opposition to such a resolution.”

Obviously, engagement does not mean going along with anything member states favor at the U.N., but being apart of the process and taking it seriously.

Clearly, Ambassador Rice is optimistic about the future of U.S.-U.N. relations.  Perhaps this is the dawning of a new era of American liberal internationalist foreign policy.




2 responses

28 01 2009

She’s a cutie.

29 01 2009

I definitely have to agree.

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