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Ex-envoy says U.N. restricted in Mideast

American pressure to favor Israel thwarted peace efforts, he writes.

June 14, 2007|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — A former U.N. envoy to the Middle East warned in a confidential report made public Wednesday that the world body has allowed itself to be "pummeled into submission" by American pressure to favor Israel, damaging its role as an impartial mediator.

In an internal memo written last month before stepping down, Alvaro de Soto urged the United Nations to withdraw from the international "quartet" negotiating group, describing it as "a sideshow" in the efforts to reconcile Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

He lamented U.N. orders blocking him from talking to Syria and the Hamas-led Palestinian government in his peacemaking efforts, saying that the U.N. was the only neutral player that could talk to every party and its refusal to do so was undermining the process.

"We are not in the lead and the role we play is subsidiary at best, dangerous at worst," he wrote.

De Soto intended the 52-page "end of mission" report to be read only by the U.N. secretary-general and a few top officials who work on the Middle East portfolio, but it was leaked Tuesday to the Guardian newspaper in London. De Soto acknowledged Wednesday that he would not have been so candid had he known the report would become public.

"I intended my views to stimulate discussion, but had hoped it would be internal, not external," he said.

De Soto, a Peruvian, gained expertise in mediating tough agreements in a 25-year U.N. career that took him to El Salvador, Cyprus and the Western Sahara before his two years working in the Middle East peace process. He quit in May, discouraged that the U.N.'s deference to Washington and Israeli interests thwarted his efforts.

The U.N.'s Middle East peace process "has become strategically subservient to the U.S. policy in the broader Middle East, including Iraq and Iran," he wrote. He detailed a "heavy barrage" of pressure from Assistant Secretary of State David Welch and National Security Council official Elliot Abrams to isolate Hamas or face the possibility of the United States withholding its U.N. dues.

His frustration came through in clear and often colorful language, such as the comparison of his "handicapping" with the Black Knight whose legs and arms are sliced off by King Arthur's sword in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

De Soto criticized both Israel's recalcitrance and persistent Palestinian violence. He scolded the Hamas movement for advocating Israel's destruction, and accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, with the rival Fatah faction, of showing weak leadership.

He wrote that the economic sanctions imposed on the Palestinian government by the United States, European Union and Israel were shortsighted and had "devastating consequences" for the Palestinian people.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday that the report represented De Soto's "personal view," not the U.N.'s.

"I would not agree with his point that the quartet has become some kind of sideshow," he said, insisting that the group -- Russia, the European Union, the United States and the United Nations -- has become "re-energized." The group will meet June 26 and 27, along with representatives from the region.


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