As Israel entered the third week of its Gaza blitz, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert regaled a crowd in Ashkelon with an astonishing tale.
He had, said Olmert, whistled up George Bush, interrupted him in the middle of a speech and told him to instruct Condi Rice not to vote for a U.N. resolution Condi herself had written. Bush did as told, said Olmert.
The crowd loved it. Here is the background.
After intense negotiations with Britain and France, Secretary of State Rice had persuaded the Security Council to agree on a resolution calling for a cease-fire. But Olmert wanted more time to kill Hamas.
So, here, in Olmert's words, is what happened next.
"In the night between Thursday and Friday, when the secretary of state wanted to lead the vote on a cease-fire at the Security Council, we did not want her to vote in favor.
"I said, 'Get me President Bush on the phone.' They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn't care. 'I need to talk to him now.' He got off the podium and spoke to me.
According to Olmert, Bush was clueless.
"He said: 'Listen. I don't know about it. I didn't see it. I'm not familiar with the phrasing."
"I told him the United States could not vote in favor. It cannot vote in favor of such a resolution. He immediately called the secretary of state and told her not to vote in favor. ...
"She was left shamed. A resolution that she prepared and arranged, and in the end she did not vote in favor."
The U.N. diplomatic corps was astonished when the United States abstained on the 14-0 resolution Rice had crafted and claimed her country supported. Arab diplomats say Rice promised them she would vote for it.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, with Rice at the United Nations during the debate on the resolution, said Olmert's remarks were "just 100 percent, totally, completely untrue."
But the White House cut Rice off at the knees, saying only that there were "inaccuracies" in the Olmert story. The video does not show Bush interrupting his speech to take any call.
Yet, the substance rings true and is widely believed, and Olmert is happily describing the egg on Rice's face:
"He (Bush) gave an order to the secretary of state, and she did not vote in favor of it -- a resolution she cooked up, phrased, organized and maneuvered for. She was left pretty shamed. ..."
With Bush and Rice leaving office in hours, and Olmert in weeks, the story may seem to lack significance.
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