The Inside Story: Did Russia play the US on the Palestinian Interpol bid?

Members of Congress are beginning to demand answers as to why the US appears to have been played.

US delegates attend the 86th INTERPOL General Assembly at Beijing National Convention Center in Beijing, China (photo credit: REUTERS)
US delegates attend the 86th INTERPOL General Assembly at Beijing National Convention Center in Beijing, China
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – The Trump administration thought it had a plan to prevent the Palestinians from joining Interpol last month. The problem was its plan relied on the Russians.
At the international police organization’s annual general assembly in Beijing, the US offered Russia something of a quid pro quo exchange. The US was prepared to pressure Kosovo to withdraw its bid for membership if Russia agreed to support its strategy to delay a vote on the Palestinian Authority bid.
A deal was made with Serbia and China on board. But, at the end of that summit, “Palestine” was in and Kosovo was still out. How did Russia get its way and the US fall flat? “I’m not sure I’m going to be able to give you a satisfactory answer to that one,” a senior Justice Department official told The Jerusalem Post last week, detailing the administration’s failed effort. “Events did not unfold the way we would’ve liked.
We are not pleased with them.”
The premise of Washington’s strategy was to put off Interpol’s consideration of all bids for membership for at least one year, based on the police organization’s decision to adopt new criteria for membership within that very same conference.
The US delegation, represented on the ground by Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, proposed five amendments effectively calling for delayed consideration of any new members – including the “State of Palestine”– for one year after those new criteria had been in place.
“At the very least, a vote on the admission of new members should occur only after all current members have sufficient time to study the new criteria and apply them carefully,” Rosenstein told the Beijing gathering. “It would be irresponsible for this body to rush to a decision about the pending applications at the same session at which we consider the draft resolution clarifying the criteria and process for membership.”
Rosenstein argued that the Palestinians could not meet basic Interpol operating requirements: A nation needs “defined borders” and “the authority to enter into relationships with other states” in order to issue Red Notices for arrests, he said.
The administration further questioned why a nonpolitical organization, as Interpol claims to be, would willfully engage in the highly politicized exercise of recognizing nation states.
Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Israel led the effort alongside the US for an amendment that would have stalled the vote, while Iran, Iraq and Turkey pushed most aggressively against them, several US government sources said.
Those officials said this plan originated in the State Department, where officials declined repeated requests for comment on this report.
Russia, China and Serbia initially supported the US’s amendment strategy, in keeping with their word. In turn, the US applied pressure on Kosovo not to proceed.
Pristina ultimately withdrew its bid after it was warned by the Trump administration that it would not win a vote if it tried.
The US strategy relied on one of these five amendments passing, but none did.
While votes on these amendments are anonymous, US officials question whether Russia provided the support requisite to the agreement over Kosovo. Indeed, after the five amendments failed, Russia, China and Serbia said they considered themselves freed of their commitment to block the Palestinian bid.
“We basically paved the way” for Palestinian membership to Interpol, one US official with knowledge of the events in Beijing told the Post. “We were relying on this strategy that was flawed.”
The Justice Department said Washington applied significant pressure on member countries to vote in favor of the amendments, and subsequently against the Palestinian bid.
“The US was engaged in intense lobbying to line up support for all five amendments, and was ultimately unsuccessful,” the Justice Department official said. “But in our view we were lobbying hard. “ Members of Congress, however, are beginning to demand answers as to why the US appears to have been played.
“America’s diplomatic strategy at Interpol clearly failed and it appears that we didn’t have a Plan B,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-New York), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Post. “This is a real-world impact of the Trump administration’s foreign policy: Russia and China outfoxed us, and now the Palestinians are part of Interpol and our ally Kosovo is not.
“I look forward to hearing from the State and Justice departments about how they plan to clean up this mess,” Engel added.