Thursday, August 10, 2006

U.N.'s Mideast Diplomatic Efforts Falter

POSTED: 4:00 am EDT August 10, 2006
UPDATED: 4:00 am EDT August 10, 2006

UNITED NATIONS -- Diplomatic efforts to reach quick agreement on a U.N.
resolution aimed at ending the escalating Israeli-Hezbollah conflict
faltered Wednesday over differences between the United States and France on
the timing of an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.
AP Photo/David Karp
Nouhad Mahmoud, Lebanese special envoy to United Nations speaks to reporters
regarding the Israel-Lebanon conflict at United Nations headquarters
Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006.

As Israel approved a broader and bigger ground offensive in southern
Lebanon, France was backing Lebanon's call for Israeli troops to pull out
once hostilities end and Lebanon deploys 15,000 troops of its own. The
United States was supporting Israel's insistence on staying until a robust
international force is deployed.

The dispute between the co-sponsors of the draft Security Council resolution
sparked a flurry of meetings Wednesday and raised the possibility of rival
U.S. and French resolutions _ or no resolution at all for the time being.

In negotiations with Britain, China, the U.S. and Russia on Wednesday
evening, France presented the latest language in the draft resolution, a
Security Council diplomat said. One key amendment "calls upon the government
of Lebanon, upon cessation of hostilities, to start deploying its armed
forces throughout the south as the Israeli army starts withdrawing behind
the Blue Line in coordination with UNIFIL," the U.N. peacekeeping force now
in the region. The Blue Line is the U.N.-drawn boundary between Lebanon and

The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were

In negotiations with Britain, China, the U.S. and Russia on Wednesday
evening, France presented language it had discussed the day before, a U.N.
Security Council diplomat said. The amendment would say Lebanese troops
should start deploying in south Lebanon with the support of U.N.
peacekeepers now present in the region, "as the Israeli army starts
withdrawing below the Blue Line," the U.N.-drawn boundary between Israel and

The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were

The U.S. response to that idea was not immediately clear, though U.S.
Ambassador John Bolton said differences remained. U.S. officials had
previously said the main issues were matters of sequencing _ which steps
should happen first.

"We're all still operating in very good faith and trying to resolve some
difficult issues that we've known for some time," Bolton said. "But my sense
is that we're getting closer in a way to resolving some of them. But I don't
want to underestimate the conceptual and operational differences that we're
trying to overcome."

French President Jacques Chirac said the draft resolution should be revised
to take into account Lebanese and Arab demands for changes. He appealed to
the U.S. at a news conference in Toulon to speed up its response to these
demands, and warned that giving up the push for an immediate end to the
fighting would be the "most immoral" response.

Chirac said that if France and the United States don't reach agreement, "we
will have a debate in the Security Council and each will affirm clearly its
position, naturally including France, through its own resolution."

The U.S.-French draft circulated Saturday calls for "a full cessation of
hostilities," with Hezbollah immediately stopping all attacks and Israel
ending offensive military operations. But Israel would still be allowed to
take defensive action and there is no call for the withdrawal of its troops
from southern Lebanon, which is Hezbollah's stronghold.

Lebanon opposed the draft, saying it favored Israel too strongly. The
Lebanese government demanded that the cessation of hostilities must be
complete _ including all Israeli military activity _ and all Israeli troops
must leave. It warned that their presence would be viewed as a new
occupation and citing Hezbollah's threat to shoot at any Israeli soldiers in
the country.

On Monday, Lebanon offered to deploy 15,000 troops in south Lebanon. France
wants a revised resolution to build on the Lebanese announcement, which
would fulfill a demand in a September 2004 Security Council resolution that
the government extend its authority throughout southern Lebanon.

Paris maintains that before the deployment of an international force _ which
it may lead _ there should be an intermediate step to reinforce the
2,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, diplomats said,
speaking on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are closed.

Bolton said the United States believes Lebanon's decision to deploy the army
in the south "is significant and we are going to take account of that in the

"The strategic issue, however, remains the same as it has been from near the
outset of this, which is that everybody wants to see this used to transform
the situation in the region _ which means fundamentally that we don't want
Hezbollah to re-infiltrate the southern part of Lebanon," he said.

U.S. officials said a cease-fire deal could accommodate both Arab demands
for an immediate Israeli pullout from southern Lebanon and U.S. and Israeli
demands that no security vacuum be left for Hezbollah to fill.

Other members of the Security Council appeared increasingly impatient with
the lack of a resolution so far.

As a practical matter, Israeli forces would need several days or longer to
leave, and the departure would be coordinated with deployment of a
replacement force that is acceptable to the Lebanese, U.S. officials said.

The composition and mandate of the replacement force is a sticking point,
but U.S. officials said it could be a combination of Lebanese and foreign
forces, perhaps under the banner of the U.N. force.

Bolton said this raises a number of issues that are the current focus of
debate, including how to ensure an effective security presence in southern
Lebanon as Israeli forces withdraw; how to put a security operation
together; and how an operation would become part of the effort to fulfill
the U.N. resolution demanding the disarmament of all militias and the
extension of Lebanese government authority throughout the country.

Lebanon also wants the resolution to include a commitment to release
Lebanese and Israeli prisoners and an agreement to put the disputed Chebaa
Farms area on the Lebanon-Syria-Israel border under U.N. jurisdiction.


Associated Press Writers Anne Gearan in Washington and Christine Ollivier in
Toulon, France, contributed to this report

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