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U.S. Pressuring Colombia Over Its Pro-Arab U.N. Votes

Marc Perelman
FORWARD (Paper Edition)
October 11, 2002


UNITED NATIONS -- Colombia, a South American nation struggling against drug lords and guerrilla groups, is under pressure from Washington to change its pro-Arab voting pattern on Middle East issues before the Security Council.

The Bush administration expects the shift as a nod to the substantial increase in foreign aid it has pledged to Colombia.

The effort comes in the midst of a fierce American campaign to garner support at the Security Council for a more aggressive stance toward Iraq and a more friendly approach to Israel.

Commenting on last month's first official visit to Washington by newly elected Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a diplomat at the U.N. and a high-ranking diplomatic source in Colombia both indicated that Colombia could become "more sympathetic" to American interests at the Security Council.

Since it became a rotating member of the council in January 2001, the violence-plagued nation of 39 million people has always voted with the Arab representative as a show of solidarity with the non-aligned movement.

"Colombia will continue to be more sympathetic to U.S. interests," the high-ranking diplomatic source in Colombia said. "There won't be a reversal of policy, but we will act on a case- by-case basis in the council and in some instances we might abstain" on Middle East resolutions.

The diplomat at the U.N. added that "Washington has probably dangled [the aid package] as an incentive that would facilitate other bilateral issues."

Congress is reviewing he $530 million military and counter- narcotic assistance the Bush administration wishes to grant to the Colombian government to fight against drug dealers and rebels. Colombia, South America's second most populous country, is the current Latin American rotating member of the Security Council and will be replaced by Chile on January 1.

Last month, during his first official visit to Washington, Uribe held talks with administration officials and lawmakers about the new package. Among the issues discusses was Colombia's record at the U.N. on topics such as Iraq and Israel, sources said.

An American official at the U.N. said he did not know whether Colombia would change its voting pattern at the council, adding that Colombia had been "helpful."

In addition, after meeting Uribe, New York Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman issued a statement saying he secured a commitment to review Colombia's policy of voting against Israel at the General Assembly, which passes some 20 anti-Israel resolutions by a vast majority of votes every year.

Jordan Goldes, an Ackerman spokesman, said Uribe had not made concrete promises about changing the voting pattern in the future.

Washington has been closely monitoring the attitudes of all council members and trying to influence them. For instance, after Colombia co-sponsored a resolution on the Middle East in early 2001 that was vetoed by the United States, diplomats said the Americans convinced the non-Arab members of the non-aligned group not to submit any more resolutions on the Middle East at the council. Since them, such resolutions are exclusively introduced by the Arab representative at the council, currently Syria.

"I believe the nonaligned countries want to please us," an American official said.

However, Jewish groups complain that Washington did not do enough linking of aid to U.N. voting patterns.

"What we try to do is to talk U.S. officials into linking the aid they provide to a country with the country's behavior at the U.N. as a top priority,' said Dina Siegel Vann, the U.N. and Latin America director at B'nai B'rith International. "They have not done it consistently."

Jewish groups have also used their perceived leverage in Congress to encourage Latin American countries to mend their ways.

For instance, Jewish officials held meetings with Chilean officials during the U.N. General Assembly last month to discuss Chile's future role at the Security Council. Chile is currently negotiating a free-trade agreement with the United States.

On September 19, B'nai B'rith sent a letter to Chile's foreign minister, Soledad Alvear, in which it expressed support for the free- trade agreement and vowed to support it in Congress.

"We would hope that Chile's close economic relationship with the U.S. would also translate into other areas of shared interests, including foreign policy," the letter said. "We would be pleased to see Chile take a leadership role in denouncing the use of terror in any circumstances and in reinforcing a call for bilateral and peaceful negotiations among the conflicting parties in the Middle East. No measure of pressure at the United Nations, targeted against Israel, will produce the desired outcome... Chile's potential role as a facilitator needs to hinge on an impartial stance regarding the Middle East conflict in accordance with its public statements rather than on a permanent position against Israel in international forums."