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