WASHINGTON – U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown may want to stick to reforming his own office and stop criticizing member states, a State Department spokesman said Wednesday.
Malloch Brown was quoted in a British newspaper Wednesday suggesting that he does not think that Hezbollah, the Syrian- and Iranian-backed group currently fighting Israeli Defense Forces, is a terrorist organization.
"It's not helpful to couch this war in the language of international terrorism. Hezbollah employs terrorist tactics; it is an organization, however, whose roots historically are completely separate and different from Al Qaeda," he said, according to a transcript of an interview.
"I have to say that some of his comments, as reported today, are really misguided and misplaced. And we are seeing a troubling pattern of a high official of the U.N. who seems to be making it his business to criticize member states and, frankly, with misplaced and misguided criticisms. So I really don't understand the origin of these comments," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
This is not the first time Malloch Brown has made remarks revealing his distaste for the U.S. administration or its policies. Last month, he said the United States relies on the United Nations as a diplomatic tool but doesn't defend it in "Middle America," which remains largely ignorant while it criticizes the world body.
Many of the U.N.'s good works are largely lost on America because "much of the public discourse that reaches the U.S. heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors such as Rush Limbaugh and FOX News," he said during a speech in which he also defended the success of U.N. peacekeeping missions.
McCormack said the United States has a good working relationship with the U.N.'s second in command, but Kofi Annan's top deputy should redirect his attention to issues closer to home.
"We hope, also, that he can focus his efforts, really, where they are needed: on working with members states to help bring about an end to this current crisis, to work on U.N. reform. We want to make sure that member state contributions, that U.S. taxpayer dollars are well spent. And there's a lot more work to be done on U.N. reform," McCormack said.
Unlike the United States, the European Union does not list Hezbollah, a Shiite Islamic group that takes "its ideological inspiration from the Iranian revolution and the teachings of the late Ayatollah Khomeini," as a terrorist organization.
"Hezbollah supports a variety of violent anti-Western groups, including Palestinian terrorist organizations. This support includes the covert provision of weapons, explosives, training, funding and guidance as well as overt political support," reads the State Department report on Hezbollah in its list of designated terror groups.
The report also notes that Hezbollah earned considerable legitimacy in 2005 after Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon. Having been a political party operating in Lebanon since 1992, Hezbollah now has 14 elected officials in the 128-seat Lebanese National Assembly and holds the Ministry of Water and Electricity.
"We believe Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. And in terms of Mr. Malloch Brown's comments regarding Hezbollah, clearly, we disagree," McCormack said.
A British citizen, Malloch Brown said he didn't think Hezbollah would lose support for its militia unless a political solution can be reached on Shebaa Farms. In 2000, after the United Nations declared complete Israel's withdrew from Lebanon, Hezbollah began claiming Israel still occupied part of the country because it holds the 25 square-mile area in the Golan Heights. Israel took Shebaa Farms from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967.
"The idea that there is a peace which either Hezbollah would respect or which would draw the wind out of Hezbollah's sails, which doesn't address those political things is, I think, far-fetched," Malloch Brown told the newspaper.
The latest military conflict between Hezbollah and Israel began when the terror group crossed into Israeli territory on July 12, kidnapping two Israeli soldiers and killing three others. Israel responded by dropping bombs on key Hezbollah strongholds. It started a new ground offensive on Tuesday.
Top members of the United Nations are trying to find a solution to end the current conflict. Malloch Brown suggested one way for that to happen is for Great Britain to fall back and "follow" the international community's lead in finding a solution.
"What is troubling to me is the U.S. and UK now carry with them a particular set of baggage in the Middle East. The challenge for them is to recognize that ultimately they have to allow others to share the lead in this effort diplomatically and [in putting together] a stabilization force," Malloch Brown told The Financial Times.
"The U.K. has immense knowledge and influence; it can be a behind the scenes player. But we need Chirac and Bush, or Chirac, Bush, and Mubarak and Abdullah on a podium, not President Bush and Mr. Blair," Malloch Brown said, referring to the leaders of France, the United States, Egypt, Jordan and England, respectively.
A diplomatic solution, however, has yet to be reached among the international community, with French officials saying they will not take part in a Thursday meeting at the United Nations of countries that could send troops to help monitor a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah.
U.S. officials say an international force needs to be ready to go to make sure a cease-fire will last. The chicken and egg argument about which comes first, the cease-fire or the peacekeepers, has heightened tensions between the United States and France, which ruled Lebanon between World Wars I and II and retains close ties to it.
White House spokesman Tony Snow tried to put a damper on the dispute on Wednesday.
"I think, when those issues are ironed out, everybody will have a full answer to it. I'm not going to get myself into what are ongoing and very constructive conversations," Snow said.
McCormack added that the United States and France are working very closely together, "off one paper, a common text."
Meanwhile, an Israeli official told FOX News on Wednesday that American support for Israel during the entire crisis has been "superb," a function of Israel's and Bush's "identical strategic view" of the nexus of Syria, Iran and regional terrorist groups.
The official said the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah should be over by the end of next week, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated in an interview with FOX News on Tuesday. The official also noted that Israel acknowledges that Hezbollah will remain a military force after the end of next week, but a "much weakened" one.
The IDF have seen a "continuous and constant erosion" of Hezbollah's ability to inflict damage on Israel, but the purpose behind Israeli diplomacy at the United Nations is to make sure that the supply lines connecting Hezbollah and Syria be permanently severed, the official said. Any multinational force installed by the United Nations at the Israeli-Lebanese border must be as dedicated to that task.
FOX News' James Rosen and Teri Schultz contributed to this report.