The Cable

Wendy Sherman promises U.S. veto of Palestinian statehood at U.N.

Wendy Sherman, President Barack Obama's nominee for a top State Department post, told senators on Wednesday that the U.S. will surely veto a Palestinian request for recognition of statehood if it reaches the U.N. Security Council, seemingly getting out ahead of the Obama administration on the issue.

Sherman's remarks came toward the end of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in an exchange with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who pressed her to comment on the Palestinian Authority's plan to seek full member state status at the United Nations later this month.

"The administration has been very clear as well ... if any such resolution were put in front of the Security Council, that we would veto it," Sherman testified. She also said that the administration did not expect the issue to come up at the Security Council, as administration officials were working hard to seek an alternate path.

"So it sounds like you're very confident that the United States would remain committed with great resolve to the veto threat," Lee said, making sure he heard her correctly.

"The United States is very resolved to a veto threat in the Security Council. What we are very resolved about as well is urging the parties to enter into direct negotiations again," Sherman responded.

Sherman noted correctly in her testimony that the issue could be raised in the U.N. General Assembly, in which case the United States would not have a veto option.

In his May 19 speech on the Arab Spring, Obama said that symbolic Palestinian actions at the United Nations "won't create an independent state" and that efforts to delegitimize Israel "will end in failure."

State Department officials, however, have avoided promising a veto or making any other direct commitments on U.S. actions, although officials have said repeatedly that they don't believe the Palestinian strategy is a good idea or would be constructive in their drive for a peaceful two-state solution.

"We are going to continue to work right up till the U.N. General Assembly, if necessary, to get these parties back to the table, and we'll continue to work afterwards," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Tuesday's briefing. "And as you know, we will continue to oppose any one-sided actions at the U.N. and we're making that clear to both sides."

Administration officials are ramping up their diplomacy on the issue this month. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday. Also, the National Security Council's Dennis Ross and Acting Special Middle East Envoy David Hale are in the Middle East and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday and Abbas today.

"My understanding, from briefings I've had at the State Department, is there has been a very broad and very vigorous demarche of virtually every capital in the world, that this is high on the agenda for every meeting the secretary has with every world leader," Sherman said.

Overall, Sherman was well received by the committee members and, for the most part, skillfully handled a barrage of questions on issues ranging from foreign aid to Libya.

Sherman was once chief of staff for Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who introduced Sherman at the hearing. "She is a strategic thinker, a seasoned diplomat, and an experienced and skilled negotiator," Mikulski said.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the committee, didn't talk much about Sherman in his opening statement, but rather used his time to criticize what he saw as a broad lack of strategic direction in the Obama administration's foreign policy.

"I remain concerned that our national security policy is being driven without sufficient planning or strategic design. The expansion of the Afghanistan mission and the intervention in Libya, in particular, have occurred with limited reference to strategic goals or vital interests," Lugar said.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) focused on the case of Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted of planning the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Menendez is calling for Megrahi to be rearrested by the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC).

Menendez said he will introduce today the "Pan Am 103 Accountability Act" which would require the president to consider Libya's cooperation on the Lockerbie investigation and would condition the thawing of frozen Libyan assets on the administration's certification that the NTC was cooperating with the United States on the issue.

The only critical comments directed at Sherman came from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who compared what he saw as two philosophies in current American foreign policy: One that he described as "strength," "firmness," and "verification"; another that depends on "friendliness," "appeasement," and "trust." He said Sherman's time as North Korean policy coordinator in the Clinton administration might indicate she was in the latter camp.

Sherman humored DeMint and said if she had to choose, she favored "strength," over "appeasement," but she also said that DeMint was offering up a false choice.

"I don't believe that engagement is the antithesis of strength and verification," she said.

The Cable

Palestinians have a plan B for U.N. statehood drive

It's generally expected that the United States will veto the Palestinian bid for full member status at the United Nations Security Council next month, but the Palestinian government thinks it has an ace up its sleeve -- a workaround option that would bypass the U.S. veto and allow it to secure U.N. recognition, says the PLO's top representative in Washington.

"The plan as of now is to go the United Nations to seek full member-state status for the State of Palestine," said Maen Rashid Areikat, PLO representative to the United States and head of the PLO mission in Washington, in a Tuesday interview with The Cable. That means submitting a request to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who will then turn that request over to the U.N. Security Council for a vote.

But the Security Council doesn't actually vote on the statehood question, only whether to refer the matter to the U.N. General Assembly. If and when the United States vetoes the idea of referring the Palestinian request to the General Assembly, that request dies. But the Palestinians aren't planning to stop there.

"We hope the United States will reconsider its position and not use its veto power against the Palestinian move at the United Nations," he said. "What happens after a veto? There are so many other options."

Areikat said one option under serious consideration was to invoke U.N. General Assembly Resolution 377, known as "Uniting for Peace," which was put forth by U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson in 1950 as a means of getting around an obstructionist Security Council, which at the time was unable to authorize a response to North Korea's attacks on South Korea because the Soviet Union was rejecting all related Security Council resolutions. Resolution 377 is meant to bypass the Security Council if it "fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression."

"What we could do is go to the Security Council and say that a member state of the Security Council, in this case the United States, has blocked our request and therefore we are seeking Security Council support to take the issue to the U.N. General Assembly, invoking Resolution 377," he said. "If that effort succeeds, we will be a non-member state at the United States, not a member state. That's the difference between the two."

Under Resolution 377, the Palestinians would only need nine out of 15 Security Council votes to refer their statehood request to the General Assembly, which can then address the matter immediately (if in session) or can call an emergency special session, as has been done 10 times since 1950, most recently in 1997, when it was convened to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The other option is for the Palestinian government to submit their request for full member status to the Security Council again, forcing the U.S. to veto it over and over.

"We can keep on going back to the Security Council again and again," Areikat said.

The Obama administration has been working hard to try to convince the Palestinians not to move forward at the United Nations. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at today's briefing that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today. Also, the NSC's Dennis Ross and Acting Special Envoy David Hale were in the Middle East and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today. Hale, but not Ross, will meet with Abbas Wednesday.

The Clinton call was "to urge President Abbas to receive them and hear them with open ears and to continue to work hard with us to avoid a negative scenario in New York at the end of the month," Nuland said. "We will continue to oppose any one-sided actions at the U.N. And we're making that clear to both sides."

"We respect their position, we expect them to respect our position. It's not a secret that they are asking us not to go the United Nations. It's not a secret that we are telling them we have to go to the United Nations," Areikat said.

But he said the Palestinian leadership no longer had faith in the United States or the international community to set forth a process for peace negotiations that both the Israeli and Palestinian sides could agree to. It's been a year since President Barack Obama established Sept. 2011 as the deadline for setting forth a framework for a final settlement, but "nothing has really happened," Areikat said.

"We have been waiting for over a year for the international community and the United States to create a formula that will constitute a basis for resuming negotiations and what we've seen is a total rejection on the part of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli government to engage."

Prompted by The Cable, Areikat also responded to comments made in our interview with Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren last week, who said that if the Palestinians move forward with their statehood drive, all bilateral agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians could be at risk, including the Oslo Accords.

"The agreement that Oren is accusing the Palestinians of violating is an agreement that Israel has rendered obsolete in the first place," he said, referring to the Oslo Accord specifically. "It's really shocking to hear that he is threatening to abandon the agreements with the PLO, which also provided certain stability to Israel and Israelis. I don't see how by abandoning the Oslo accords Israeli will be serving its own interests."

The State Department last week urged both sides to honor their existing agreements, despite the new diplomatic tussle. Areikat warned that the scuttling of standing agreements could have repercussions for Israel as well.

"If the Israelis want to take an action, there will be a reaction. If they want to throw away an agreement, it will also have an impact on them," he said.

Areikat also criticized leaders of the U.S. Congress, who is threatening to cut some or all of the $550 million in annual aid to the Palestinian government if it moves forward with the statehood push at the U.N., calling such an action "unwise and unconstructive."

"We definitely hope the U.S. Congress understands the fact that any steps taken to put pressure on the Palestinians is going to adversely affect U.S. interests and even the interests of Israel in the region," he said. "I hate to see members of Congress threatening to use financial support to try to influence Palestinian positions on this issue."

UPDATE: A State Department official confirms that Ross did end up meeting with Abbas Wednesday, along with Hale.

AFP/Getty Images