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Rice calls Olmert account ‘fiction’

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — Condoleezza Rice called "fiction" Ehud Olmert’s claim that he persuaded President Bush to abstain from a U.N. Security Council call for a cease-fire and left the secretary of state "shamed."

"The prime minister was, I hope, quoted out of context, because the story that I read in the newspaper is fiction," Rice said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

"The president and I talked about the resolution, about the importance of allowing the council to send a signal even though the United States believed that the resolution was premature," she said. "And I had made it very clear that I thought the resolution was premature, and there were also concerns about a resolution that had Israel, a member-state of the United Nations, and Hamas, which is a terrorist organization — you don’t ever want there to be any equating those two.

"And so we talked. We talked about abstention as a good option. And I was quite aware of the president’s call to Prime Minister Olmert. Of course, Prime Minister Olmert is not at all aware of what the president said to me. And I repeat, his rendering of this is fiction — if, in fact, that was his rendering of it. And I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it’s not exactly what he said."

Olmert told an audience in Ashkelon on Monday that Rice "was left shamed."

"A resolution that she prepared and arranged, and in the end she did not vote in favor," he said.

The United States abstained in the Jan. 8 vote calling for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza conflict, but did not exercise its right as one of five permanent members of the council to veto the resolution.

Olmert said he learned on the day of the vote that the United States would line up behind the resolution.

"I said ‘get me President Bush on the phone,’ " Olmert said. "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. 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."

Israeli officials have declined to comment on the Olmert speech. Rice’s spokesman, Sean McCormack, said U.S. officials have discussed the issue with their Israeli counterparts.

"I wouldn’t characterize this as having sought an official clarification at this point. But we have talked to some Israeli officials," McCormack said. "I’ll let them speak for themselves. "

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