Rice extends NY stay to continue cease-fire efforts

Rice at UN 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Rice at UN 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The United Nations Security Council convened Thursday afternoon to discuss proposals aimed at achieving a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice extended her stay in New York to continue working at the United Nations on efforts to reach a cease-fire. During the day, UN member states considered backing a French-Egyptian cease-fire proposal in an extended emergency session dealing with the violence in Gaza. While the US has vetoed a binding resolution that failed to mention Hamas, a presidential statement from the UN Security Council calling for immediate adoption of the French-Egyptian plan is more likely. The US has given qualified support to the French-Egyptian proposal, saying that it welcomed the countries' efforts and agreed that an end to the violence is urgently needed, but stopped short of endorsing the plan. Rice said late Wednesday that the US supported the Egyptian-French cease-fire initiative for Gaza, and she had discussed "the importance of moving that initiative forward" with Arab ministers and the Israelis. "We are very much applauding the efforts of a number of states, particularly the effort that [Egyptian] President [Hosni] Mubarak has undertaken on behalf of Egypt," Rice said. "We're supporting that initiative." "We're also talking about how the council can best support the effective action that could be taken on the ground," she said. Rice spoke to reporters outside the Security Council, where members were holding closed-door discussions on what action to take. Arab nations have called for a vote on a legally binding resolution demanding a cease-fire, but the US, Britain and France want a weaker presidential statement. White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino emphasized the need for quiet. "We need urgently to conclude some sort of a cease-fire agreement that will be lasting, that would endure," she said at a Wednesday press briefing. Asked about the Egyptian proposal, she said that the US needed more information about it, and "that's what Secretary Rice is working on right now in New York." She repeated the US stipulations for any cease-fire, including a cessation of Hamas rocket fire, a means of preventing smuggling from Egypt into Gaza and a way to reopen Gaza's borders. The Egyptian plan is said to contain those elements, but specific mechanisms, including what sort of international presence would be needed, haven't been worked out and many details remain fuzzy. Some diplomatic sources suggested that the mixed American signals might stem from a lack of clarity over what the proposal entails. Rice met throughout the day with Arab leaders in New York, including the Egyptian, Jordanian, Libyan and Moroccan foreign ministers, as well as representatives from Saudi Arabia and Arab League head Amr Moussa. She has also been working the phones, speaking with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni a combined six times over the last two days. She still hasn't planned a trip to the region, though, despite visits to the region from European leaders. In New York on Tuesday, Rice told the UN that "The United States remains deeply concerned about innocent Palestinians and Israelis who are suffering. In that regard, let me assure you that we understand the urgency of an end to the fighting and that we are working around the clock to bring it into being." She added, "We also are very concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza," noting that she has received regular updates on conditions there and pressed Israel to halt its attack to allow in humanitarian aid. US President-elect Barack Obama also expressed concern over the Gaza violence for the second time in two days. Asked at a brief press conference Wednesday about his lack of involvement in the issue, he replied, "We cannot be sending a message to the world that there are two different administrations conducting foreign policy. That is not safe for the American people. Obviously, I am deeply concerned about the status of what's been taking place in Gaza." Also in Washington on Wednesday, ahead of a national solidarity day Thursday, Jewish groups held a pro-Israel rally in a downtown synagogue. Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, Florida Representative Robert Wexler and Israel's ambassador to the US Sallai Meridor among the distinguished guests. Meridor also met with 20 members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee for an hour earlier in the day, including Chairman Howard Berman and Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The House and Senate are still working on synchronizing non-binding resolutions in support of Israel, with action on them likely to be taken this week. JPost.com Staff and the Associated Press contributed to this report.