Talks Fail on Mideast Truce

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice opposed a bid by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan for a
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice opposed a bid by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan for a "pause" in fighting to allow a relief effort. (By Sandro Pace -- Associated Press)
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 27, 2006

ROME, July 26 -- International talks on Lebanon here failed Wednesday to agree on an immediate cease-fire in the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah but called for a new multinational force in south Lebanon and opened the way for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to return to the Middle East soon for further discussions, U.S. and U.N. officials said.

The Rome conference did not bridge the gap between a tough U.S. position, opposing a cease-fire except as part of a broader arrangement that can endure for years, and European and Arab calls for an immediate halt to the fighting. The meeting went 90 minutes longer than expected, largely because of stiff debate over the cease-fire issue, U.S. diplomats said.

"We are all agreed that we want most urgently to end the violence on a basis that this time will be sustainable, because unfortunately, this is a region that has had too many broken cease-fires, too many spasms of violence, followed then by other spasms of violence," Rice said at a joint news conference with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the conference host, Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema.

Despite an impassioned appeal for an immediate end to hostilities by Siniora, who said Israeli airstrikes had brought his country "to its knees," the United States pushed through language urging countries to "work immediately to reach with utmost urgency a cease-fire that will put an end to the current violence and hostilities." Most of the 18 parties called instead for "urgent work on an immediate cease-fire."

As an alternative, Annan suggested a temporary "pause" in hostilities to let in humanitarian assistance and allow deployment of an international force to distribute relief and eventually help strengthen the Lebanese government, an idea that other delegates said was blocked by intense U.S. pressure.

The U.S.-backed formulation would allow fighting to continue until a wide-ranging agreement can be worked out, diplomats here said.

Terge Roed-Larsen, a U.N. special envoy for Lebanon, called the conference a "steppingstone," rather than a failure. "No one can wave a magic wand. We need time. This is the real world," he said.

Rice told reporters traveling with her that talks will begin later this week or early next week among countries interested in contributing troops to the proposed multinational force. Plans are also underway for one or two new U.N. Security Council resolutions, which U.S. officials said could be drafted as early as next week.

The conference did not define the terms or timing of the proposed force, although Rice said it would not be expected to deploy under hostile fire. The conference declaration said the force should receive "a U.N. mandate to support" Lebanon's army in securing the country's south.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Wednesday that he would commit troops to a military force for Lebanon if it had a U.N. mandate, and Turkey, NATO's only Muslim member, said Tuesday that it might join such a force as well. Spain, Germany and Ukraine have also said they are weighing participation, the Associated Press reported.

Philip Zelikow, a senior Rice aide, remained in Europe for follow-on talks with European Union officials about future meetings and the proposed multinational force. A U.N. source said its peacekeeping office was exploring different models for a Lebanon mission after the failure of earlier international forces there, including the current observer mission, known as UNIFIL, four of whose members were killed Tuesday in an Israeli airstrike.

Conference participants also announced plans for an international donors' conference to mobilize aid to reconstruct battered Lebanon, with a particular focus on the Shiite-dominated south that has long been a stronghold for Hezbollah.

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