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Friday, August 04, 2006

US - France Mexican standoff leads to Security Council postponement

A Mexican standoff between the US and France, over whether to send in international forces to first disarm Hezbullah or to first have an unconditional cease fire and then send in international forces, has led the UN Security Council to postpone its meeting about Lebanon to next week.

YNet reports that the decision to postpone the Security Council meeting came after France, which has led efforts for a diplomatic solution and could lead an international force, refused to participate in the US-backed meeting to discuss such a force before a resolution for an unconditional cease fire was in place.
"It's clear that it remains premature for such a meeting to be held because of the absence of an agreed political framework for ending the conflict," UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said. "If you don't have a mandate, how can you decide what kind of force you need?"

Officials gave conflicting accounts about when exactly a deal could be reached, but they appeared eager to make it look like they were moving forward toward a deal rather than stuck in deadlock as the conflict entered its fourth week Wednesday, with more than 600 dead on both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese border.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday an agreement on how to end the fighting was possible within days, not weeks.

Yet Ghana's UN Ambassador Nana Effah-Apenteng, president of the Security Council for August, was more cautious. He indicated there would not be a Security Council meeting this week to allow all sides time to resolve their differences.

Diplomats said the US and France had neared a general agreement on the elements required for a lasting solution. Those include halting the fighting, disarming Hizbullah, deploying peacekeepers, and creating a buffer zone in south Lebanon free of Hizbullah terrorists and Israeli troops.

Tony Snow, spokesman for President Bush, said the US and France were working "on the same sheet of paper when it comes to what everybody said was an unbridgeable chasm with regard to Lebanon."

Yet the problem that has bedeviled them for days remains: they can't agree which steps to take first.
What you're not being told is that what's at stake here is plainly whether or not Hezbullah will be disarmed at all. While France and others are saying that the international force will disarm Hezbullah after the cease fire is in place, yesterday's Washington Post gives reason to think otherwise, and indicates that Lebanon will not agree to the international force at all:
Lebanon's acting foreign minister, Tarek Mitri, said Wednesday he doubts that his government would agree to invite a European-led intervention force into southern Lebanon, citing fierce opposition from Hezbollah and its key foreign backers, Syria and Iran.

Mitri said Hezbollah's political standing in Lebanon has been greatly enhanced during its three-week battle with Israel, and that its views on the size and mandate of an international force will have to be taken into account. He also said that "no solution" to the current violence in Lebanon can be found without the participation of Syria and Iran in the search for a political settlement.

"Hezbollah's resisting so forcefully to Israel has raised their popularity," Mitri said in an interview in New York, where he lobbied the United States and other countries to support an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon. "No one has exact information on what impact it has had on their military strength. But I can assure you Hezbollah has gained more popular support because of what Israel did than it had before the war. The Lebanese are united in opposition to this onslaught."
Translation: As far as Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Hezbullah are concerned, an immediate cease fire is the end of the line. And France may be complicit in that thinking.

YNet notes that both Israel and Lebanon must agree to the deployment of an international peace keeping force, and that consent is far from certain:
Any resolution will also have to gain the acceptance of Lebanon and Israel, which could prove difficult.

Israel has said it wants an armed force with a mandate to confront terrorists and seeks NATO involvement. Lebanon, however, wants an expansion of the current UN peacekeeping force, deployed in south Lebanon since 1978. [The current UN force has been completely ineffective. CiJ]

Earlier Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said his country would stop its offensive only after a robust international peacekeeping force is in place in southern Lebanon — something likely to take weeks at a minimum.
And guess what: it's not just France that's complicit in Lebanon's plan to avoid a real international force: it's the entire Security Council other than the United States:
Effah-Apenteng told reporters that the United States was the only member in the 15-nation Security Council that opposed the French demand for an immediate halt to fighting.

Asked if any other council member shared the US view, he said: "From my reading of the situation, no."
Why do I sense a lynch in the making?


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