U.S. at Odds With Allies on Mideast Conflict

A Lebanese family with U.S. citizenship waves goodbye from the deck of a cruise ship taking as many as 1,000 Lebanese to the island of Cyprus.
A Lebanese family with U.S. citizenship waves goodbye from the deck of a cruise ship taking as many as 1,000 Lebanese to the island of Cyprus. (By Michael Robinson Chavez -- The Washington Post)
By Robin Wright and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 20, 2006

The United States faces growing tensions with allies over its support of Israel's military campaign to cripple Hezbollah, amid calls for a cease-fire to help with the mounting humanitarian crisis.

European allies are particularly alarmed about the disproportionately high civilian death toll in Lebanon. They are also concerned that the U.S. position will increase tensions between the Islamic world and the West by fueling militants, playing into the rhetoric of Osama bin Laden and adding to the problems of the U.S.-led coalition force in Iraq.

"What there needs to be now is a cessation of hostilities," U.N. Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown told reporters yesterday. "The Middle East is littered with the results of people believing there are military solutions to political problems in the region." He said civilians are "very unfairly bearing the greatest brunt of the conflict."

The fragile Lebanese government has pleaded for a cease-fire, and France has urged the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution calling for an end to hostilities, proposing political and security measures. France also has called for "humanitarian corridors" to guarantee safety for civilians fleeing areas under fire.

More than 500,000 people -- about one in eight in a country smaller than Connecticut -- have been displaced, according to the Lebanese government.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will head to the United Nations tonight to begin talks on the crisis and a possible stabilization force along the border. Few specifics have been developed about the goals, size, location and timing of such a force, U.N. and European officials said.

The United Nations has floated the idea of expanding a 2,000-strong U.N. force that has been in Lebanon since Israel's first incursion, in 1978. But Israel and the United States say that option is not viable.

Rice is now expected to travel to the Middle East as soon as this weekend, but with a limited listening mission in Israel and Egypt. The United States is still struggling to define the timing and purpose of her mission. She is tentatively expected to leave a team behind in Israel, head on to Malaysia for a conference of Southeast Asian nations, and possibly return to the Middle East for further negotiations if her team can put the right "building blocks" in place, a U.S. official said.

The United States is increasingly out of sync with key allies, however, because it remains content to allow Israel to pound Hezbollah, both to remove it as a threat and to undermine the region's extremist movements and hard-line regimes.

European nations and U.N. officials are eager for a cease-fire or "pause" to allow Lebanese civilians to move to safer areas and investigate diplomatic avenues, as well as prevent other Middle East hot spots from becoming inflamed, European envoys said.

"The one thing that is guaranteed to send the Arab world and the Persian world over the edge is for the U.S. to be seen ultimately to be doing what they always believed -- to be fully in cahoots with Israel," said a European official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic relations. "The danger of allowing it to continue is that the United States is more and more despised. It's not like the U.S. had a good reputation within the region to start with."

The White House vehemently denied it is coordinating with Israel or "sitting around at the war map saying 'Do this, this and this,' " press secretary Tony Snow said. "We're not colluding, we're not cooperating, we're not conspiring, we're not doing any of that," he told reporters. "The Israelis are doing what they think is necessary to protect their borders."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company