Tags: Rice | UN | Israel | Hamas

Major Issues Loom as Susan Rice Heads to U.N.

Friday, 23 Jan 2009 04:36 PM

By Stewart Stogel

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UNITED NATIONS -- President Barack Obama's choice for the next U.S. representative at the United Nations will arrive at the world body next week.

Diplomatic sources in New York tell Newsmax that the U.S. mission has been spreading the word that Susan Rice will present her credentials to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon next Monday.

If that scenario holds, Rice's assumption of the U.N. post would be one of the speediest in recent memory.

U.N. sources confirm to Newsmax that Rice has been "penciled in" to see Ban early Monday morning. Her arrival will come less than a week after Obama was sworn in as the 44th president ot the United States.

On Thursday evening, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly confirmed the Rice nomination.

Her predecessor, Zalmay Khalilzad, spent more than two months getting his nomination approved and moving into the ambassador's residence.

Khalilzad, who left office earlier in the week, told Newsmax that he didn't anticipate Rice's arrival "until mid-February."

His predecessor, the controversial John Bolton, waited more than two years for Senate approval, which he eventually abandoned when then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden vowed to block Bolton's confirmation.

Rice, currently on leave from the Brookings Institution, is a veteran of the Bill Clinton State Department, where she specialized in African affairs as an assistant secretary of state.

When Rice arrives, she will be the first female to serve in the U.N. post in 12 years. The last woman was Madeleine Albright, who later became Rice's boss at Foggy Bottom.

The new U.S. ambassador will face a number of high-profile issues as soon as she takes up residence in New York.

First and foremost will be Israel, Hamas and Gaza.

It is no secret that both the Bush and Obama White Houses were "uneasy" over Ban's repeated attacks on Israel's Gaza military campaign.

The new White House would prefer "quiet" diplomacy led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mideast special envoy Dennis Ross and Rice to try and solidify a tenuous cease-fire.

Of equal importance is the White House's efforts to steer clear of any influence in the upcoming Israeli elections.

Those elections, scheduled for early February, see a tight three-way race between former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

In 1996, U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's condemnation of Israeli attacks on a U.N. compound in southern Lebanon is believed to have thrown a close election into the lap of Netanyahu.

It is also no secret that the hawkish Netanyahu's relationship with then-President Bill Clinton was often characterized as "strained."

The Obama White House does not want to see a repeat of the events of 1996.

Another issue will be the continuing crisis in Darfur.

The Sudanese government, unhappy with the U.N.'s "relief" operations would like to see the world body leave the region.

Rice, who is respected among the African diplomatic corps, may hold considerable sway in getting the U.N. some breathing space to shore up its controversial east African operations.

Other potential flash points for the new ambassador include the on-going nuclear standoffs in North Korea and Iran, both of which continue to flout U.N. demands to suspend their atomic activities.

Iran is close to activating one of the world's largest nuclear power stations near the Persian Gulf port of Bushehr.

The 12-year, $6 bil project being built by Moscow could come on-line by April.

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