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Bolton On ME and the Deaths of UNIFIL Observers

Situation in the Middle East and the Deaths of UNIFIL Observers

Ambassador John R. Bolton, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Remarks at Security Council Stakeout
New York City
July 26, 2006


Ambassador Bolton: Let me say first, obviously the United States deeply regrets the tragic deaths of the four UNIFIL observers. It appears to be at this point, according to the Secretariat, three confirmed dead and one missing and feared dead. Our condolences certainly go to the families of the deceased and to their governments. And it is a tragedy, there is no questions about it. We are pleased that the government of Israel has announced that it will conduct an immediate investigation; we expect it will be thorough and highly professional.

They have described the incident as one that is an operational mistake. The government of Israel has definitively said that they were not deliberately targeting the UNIFIL outpost. We certainly take them at their word and note that there is no evidence to the contrary, but the purpose of the investigation will be to get the full circumstances. We do think that it would be appropriate for the Security Council today to issue a presidential statement on the deaths of the four military observers. Ambassador Wong and I met privately before the Security Council briefing to see if we could come to agreement on a draft presidential statement and in fact, we were able to make good progress and came close. Now in the course of the discussion in the Council a number of other observations were made, so let me be clear that the objective of the United Sates here is to make an appropriate statement in a very timely fashion about the deaths of the four UNIFIL observers and not to make this statement a backdoor way of getting into ceasefire or other larger political and military questions, that's not appropriate here, we need to move quickly on this tragic incident and not get embroiled in larger questions. I think all of you are familiar with what Secretary Rice noted about the discussions in Rome and her continuing work on the subject, we think that's where the focus of diplomacy is and that's why we hope that we can reach agreement very quickly on a presidential statement that will address the deaths of the UNIFIL observers and not get entangled in larger questions.

Reporter: Do you have any thoughts on the Chinese draft that calls on the Security Council draft to stress "deliberate targeting" is that something that you see you will accept?

Ambassador Bolton: That's not the operative draft. They circulated a new draft this morning. That phrase is out, already, so we are looking at something else now.

Reporter: Is there wisdom in actually getting a presidential statement before the United Nations acts?

Ambassador Bolton: I think the thrust of the presidential statement should be to express our regret at the loss of life of the four UNIFIL observers and express our condolences to the families. I think the Council should move quickly on something like that and to say that we support the Israeli statement that they intend to conduct a full investigation.

Reporter: The Chinese Ambassador said he thought that the Peacekeeping department made a strong case that it was an apparently deliberate targeting of the UN outpost. Why do you say you didn't see the evidence?

Ambassador Bolton: The question, I think, at this point, has to be resolved through a more thorough investigation. The Israeli government has expressly denied that they intend to hit the UNIFIL outpost, and I know of no evidence to the contrary. Presumably, in the course of a thorough and professional investigation we will find out whatever there is to know.

Reporter: Why should UNIFIL still be kept there when they are sitting ducks, what is the point right now? They're not really helping doing anything right now, they're just ducking.

Ambassador Bolton: I think there are two questions, the first is what we do with the UNIFIL presence and mandate pending a resolution of the larger political issue, and from that perspective, we are considering a temporary extension of UNIFIL, the mandate, for some period of time, normally it is for six months. I think it certainly will be some period of time less than that, whether the exact period of time we're still thinking about, and whether this should include any modification of the UNIFIL mandate, we're thinking about that. That's point one. Point two is what to do operationally in the field on the ground in terms of protecting the UNIFIL personnel and ensuring their safety. In that regard, I think that is up to the commanders on the ground, I don't think it's for us to second guess it here, and I note that the government of Israel has made numerous statements of its commitment to safeguard the UNIFIL personnel.

Reporter: What are the commanders saying though, the briefing, maybe they don't want to be seen as cut and running?

Ambassador Bolton: That didn't really come up in the briefing, except at the end of it, there was a statement that UNIFIL commanders would be considering what steps to take. We didn't get into that in the briefing, but we are certainly interested.

Reporter: (Inaudible) What are the next steps?

Ambassador Bolton: The next steps, I think, coming from Rome, we'll look to Secretary Rice to describe, perhaps when she gets to Kuala Lumpur, the issue is how to characterize this incident in the presidential statement, and I think we need to be very careful how we characterize it until we have all the facts. That's why I say the major thrust here should be that we obviously regret this tragic loss of life and that we want to extend our condolences to the families of the four UNIFIL military observers.

Reporter: (Inaudible).

Ambassador Bolton: We're still working on Iran; we're going to meet again later today.

Reporter: Will there be any UN staff in this investigation with the state of Israel?

Ambassador Bolton: My understanding is that Israel will conduct the investigation through its normal procedures. Anything else? Okay thank you very much.

Released on July 26, 2006


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