Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, was forced to step back from voting in favour of the Gaza ceasefire resolution at the UN Security Council after orders from Washington, diplomatic sources said yesterday.
The US abstention on the resolution vote early yesterday, which clearly weakened its impact, was the final twist in a tumultuous three-day marathon of negotiations in New York.
When three of the world's top diplomats -- Ms Rice, David Miliband, Britain's foreign secretary, and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner -- descended on New York on Tuesday to take action there was plenty of reason to believe that their efforts would end in tears. Most alarming was the prospect of a vote on a ceasefire text tabled by Libya. The US was threatening to veto it.
But by Thursday morning, the US had had a surprising change of heart. It could back a resolution, if the British drafted one, which Mr Miliband and his diplomatic crew duly did.
When finally every last hurdle was cleared and the members of the Security Council were headed to their chamber for the vote, there was a mood of celebration in the building.
But before the vote was due, word began to circulate that America was not going to vote in favour after all. The change of heart came about with a phone call from George Bush to Ms Rice in which he said don't veto the resolution but don't vote for it either.