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U.S. vetoes call for cease-fire in Gaza for a third time

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Biden administration has once again used its veto power on the U.N. Security Council to block a call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield tried to avoid this diplomatic showdown by suggesting a different draft resolution.

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LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Proceeding with a vote today was wishful and irresponsible. And so while we cannot support a resolution that would put sensitive negotiations in jeopardy, we look forward to engaging on a text that we believe will address so many of the concerns we all share.

CHANG: Well, NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen joins us now to explain more. Hi, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so this is the third time the U.S. has vetoed a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, right? Can you just explain why the U.S. keeps doing this?

KELEMEN: Well, the ambassador argues that calling for a cease-fire without demanding that Hamas release hostages is not going to end this conflict. So Thomas-Greenfield points out that the U.S. is working with Qatar and Egypt on a new hostage deal, one that would bring about a six-week-long pause in fighting. And she put forward a draft Security Council resolution that she says should back up this diplomacy. It actually calls for a temporary cease-fire. And that's new language for the U.S. to even be using that word, cease-fire. The draft, though, says that this has to be based on a formula of getting all the hostages out. The draft also expresses grave concern for the more than a million and a half Palestinians in Rafah - that's in Southern Gaza - ahead of a possible Israeli ground operation. And, you know, Ailsa, there's just a lot of concern at the U.N. right now about Rafah.

CHANG: Yeah, a lot of concern not only at the U.N. but all over the world. What is the U.S. doing about the situation in Rafah?

KELEMEN: Well, the U.S. has been warning Israel not to go into Rafah without a clear plan on how to protect civilians. Here's Thomas-Greenfield again, speaking to reporters outside the U.N. Security Council chambers.

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THOMAS-GREENFIELD: No attacks on Rafah should take place given current circumstances. And we will keep pressing that. We know - we've heard what Israel has said. They have not gone in to attack Rafah. And we will keep engaging and urging and pushing in that direction to ensure that that does not happen.

KELEMEN: So this is a case she's been making publicly and privately with the Israelis. Mentioning it in a draft Security Council resolution kind of ups the pressure on Israel to hold back.

CHANG: Well, how quickly might we see a vote on the U.S. draft resolution, you think?

KELEMEN: You think it's hard to say how long it'll take to negotiate this. The ambassador representing the Palestinian Authority, Riyad Mansour, said while it's good that the U.S. is now willing to talk about a cease-fire, even a temporary one, he thinks it would just be better for the U.S. to press Israel to agree to one. Mansour sounded pretty frustrated with the U.S. veto today. Here's what he said in the council chambers.

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RIYAD MANSOUR: The message given today to Israel with this veto is that it can continue to get away with murder. Israel cannot and should not and will not get away with it. We will not allow it.

KELEMEN: And I should say Israel's ambassador, Gilad Erdan, was also at the Security Council, saying diplomats keep talking about a cease-fire as if that some magical solution to the region's problems. Take a listen.

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GILAD ERDAN: A cease-fire achieves one thing and one thing only - the survival of Hamas, exactly the opposite of how it's portrayed. A cease-fire is a death sentence for many more Israelis and Gazans.

KELEMEN: So he's making clear there won't be a cease-fire as long as Hamas is controlling Gaza and holding hostages.

CHANG: Well, speaking of hostages, I mean, what has been the latest on hostage negotiations at this point, Michele?

KELEMEN: Well, the Biden administration's envoy, Brett McGurk, is heading back to the region, trying to push for a deal. But these talks are taking a long time. You know, the U.S., Qatar and Egypt came up with kind of a framework at the end of January. Hamas came back with a counterproposal a couple of weeks ago which Israel dismissed as delusional. So these are not easy discussions. And in the meantime, fighting continues. And there's the concern about Rafah and also the fact that not much aid is getting in.

CHANG: That is NPR's Michele Kelemen. Thank you so much, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICO SEGAL AND THE SOCIAL EXPERIMENT SONG, "PASS THE VIBES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.