U.S. Backs Sending of U.N. Observers to W. Bank, Gaza : Middle East: The Administration hardens its stand. Israel strongly opposes the controversial plan.


The Bush Administration, hardening a position that already has drawn sharp objections from Israel, said Tuesday that it will support--not just discuss--sending a U.N. fact-finding mission to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Administration also endorsed an Arab proposal to give the fact-finding team a specific mandate from the Security Council.

Previously, the United States had talked about supporting the assignment of a personal envoy of U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, a procedure that would have given the observers less authority than they would carry with a Security Council vote.

The new U.S. position is expected to appeal to delegates to an Arab summit in Baghdad, Iraq, which is scheduled to wrap up today. That session has been marked by a strident speech by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein attacking U.S. support for Israel.


State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler revealed the shifting details of U.S. policy, although she insisted that the overall policy is unchanged. As she did last week, Tutwiler emphasized that Washington opposes sending U.N. peacekeeping troops to the Israeli-occupied lands.

“The United States continues to support the idea of a U.N. Security Council special (civilian) envoy to observe the situation on the ground, return to New York and report back to the interested parties,” she said.

When reporters pointed out that previously the department had said only that it was willing to discuss the proposal, Tutwiler said: “Today we have said we would support. . . . That’s a new thing, correct.”

When Secretary of State James A. Baker III first suggested U.S. interest in an observer mission last week, Israeli officials angrily denounced the idea. The Israeli government said it would not permit a U.N. mission to meddle in its internal affairs.

Tutwiler said Tuesday that the United States favors a small, civilian mission like one in 1988 led by U.N. official Marrack Goulding. Although Israel has long chafed at the U.N. attitude toward its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the government did not attempt to block Goulding’s visit.

Meanwhile, Tutwiler declined to comment on the anti-American tenor of Hussein’s speech to the summit in Baghdad, but she did denounce as “irresponsible . . . inflammatory . . . outrageous” the Iraqi president’s reiteration of a threat to retaliate with chemical weapons if Israel should attack an Arab state with nuclear weapons.