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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

We turn now to a diplomatic showdown at the United Nations. Tomorrow, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will deliver a formal request to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He's asking for state recognition of Palestine and full U.N. membership. If that request makes it to the U.N. Security Council, President Obama has made clear the U.S. will oppose it with a veto, if necessary.

White House critics have come down hard on the president, on one side for not sufficiently supporting Israel, but he's also under fire from those who say he's undermining the Palestinians' push for recognition, considering what he said before the U.N. General Assembly just last year.

P: When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations, an independent sovereign state of Palestine living in peace with Israel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Here to explain the difference between this year and last is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. Ambassador Rice, welcome back to the program.

BLOCK: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: Now we just heard from the president speaking last year. At best, the juxtaposition of that tape with the administration's current position is somewhat awkward, but to many, it's more than that. It's an outright contradiction. How do you reconcile those two things?

RICE: It's not a contradiction at all, Michele, because the president was very clear and it was in the clip that you just played. We need to see an agreement between the two parties. And based on that agreement, we hope and we still hope that it won't be long before there is, in fact, a Palestinian state recognized and seated at the United Nations.

There's no resolution at the United Nations or any other magic wand that can be waved that shortcuts the process of the two sides deciding what are the borders, what happens to Jerusalem, what happens to refugees? All of these are crucial issues that are necessary to be resolved if, in fact, the Palestinians will really, in the real world, on the ground, have an independent state.

NORRIS: Now, the president has echoed what you're saying right now, that the vote is purely symbolic and it wouldn't improve life for Palestinians, wouldn't necessarily change a thing for them. But is there something to be said for symbolism on its own? Could you understand how the symbolism of a vote like this might feel like progress?

RICE: If it were going to accelerate the effort to bring the parties back to the negotiating table and create, in the real world, a negotiated solution and an independent Palestinian state, we would say yes. But the reality is quite the opposite is going to happen. We're gonna have expectations raised on the part of the Palestinian people and not met. We're going to have the Israelis not more willing and ready to come to the negotiating table, but less willing and ready to come to the negotiating table.

So the process that must occur will be that much more complicated in the wake of this kind of one-sided action than it would have otherwise been.

NORRIS: A number of key allies in the Middle East and North Africa support recognition of an independent Palestine. More importantly, this vote has overwhelming support among the people of Saudi Arabia, the people of Jordan, the people of Egypt, the people of Pakistan and Tunisia and Kuwait. We spent much of the past decade trying to repair the U.S. image in this region. Is opposing this vote worth the widespread anger and resentment that it's likely to create?

RICE: There's no alternative because the United States can't be party to a pretense that somehow this will create something that it won't create. We understand that the Palestinian people have - feel like they have waited very long and far too long to have their own state. We want to help them achieve that state as quickly as possible, that's what the president was saying this year and last year at the General Assembly.

But the bottom line is there's no way to accomplish that short of the two sides coming back to the negotiating table. If there were, we would be for it.

NORRIS: King Abdullah of Jordan spoke to my colleague on MORNING EDITION, Steve Inskeep, today, and he said that a number of countries in this region are looking hard at their relationship with Israel or their - or looking hard at Israel and they're concerned because Israel is a country that, in their eyes, seems to be intransigent, unwilling to make any kind of concessions. He referred to it as fortress Israel. Is that an accurate rendering of what's going on right now? Is his view of Israel correct?

RICE: Well, that's certainly not our view of Israel. Our view is that, as you heard the president articulate yesterday, and some people did not particularly want to hear it in the context of General Assembly. We have to walk in each other's shoes and understand the circumstances of the Palestinians and the circumstances of the Israelis. Israeli children grow up fearful, in many parts of the country, as to whether a rocket is gonna land in their bedroom or whether a bomb is gonna blow up their school bus.

It is, in the current context, Israel is surrounded by neighbors, minus Jordan, that are more or less hostile, just as Palestinian children grow up feeling that they don't have the opportunity for charting their own future that they want and deserve. And what the president was saying yesterday is each side and all of us need to understand what it is like to be the other.

NORRIS: Susan Rice is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Ambassador Rice, always good to talk to you. Thank you very much.

RICE: Good to talk to you, too.

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