As Bush Outlines Cease-Fire Terms, U.N. Talks Stall

By Peter Baker and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 1, 2006

MIAMI, July 31 -- President Bush vowed Monday to work for a cease-fire to stop the bloodshed in the Middle East as long as several broad conditions are met, but deliberations at the United Nations quickly became tangled in a dispute between the United States and France over the right approach.

Bush insisted that any cease-fire plan establish Lebanese control over its territory, dispatch a multinational force to create a buffer zone, and require Iran and Syria to stop backing the Hezbollah militia, which is firing rockets at Israeli territory. He made no demands on Israel a day after Israeli bombs killed at least 57 people in a Lebanese village, mostly women and children, and he again rejected calls for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire.

"Stopping for the sake of stopping is -- can be okay, except it won't address the root cause of the problem," Bush said in an interview with Fox News while on a domestic political trip here Monday. The deaths of Lebanese civilians in the village of Qana on Sunday, he added, were "awful. I understand that. But it's also awful that a million Israelis are worried about rockets being fired from their neighbor to the north."

Bush flew back from Florida to have dinner at the White House with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who arrived in Washington late in the day after a marathon round of shuttle diplomacy in the Mideast, and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley.

Rice expressed optimism that a cease-fire resolution would be passed by the U.N. Security Council this week, followed almost immediately by initial deployment of international troops to enforce it.

"This morning as I head back to Washington, I take with me an emerging consensus on what is necessary for both an urgent cease-fire and a lasting settlement," Rice told reporters shortly before leaving Jerusalem. "I am convinced we can achieve both this week."

Yet as her plane made its way across the Atlantic, the fissures between the United States and its allies widened at the United Nations, where a meeting to craft plans for the international force was postponed after France declared it pointless without a political settlement between Israel and Lebanon.

"You know, France is in favor of setting up an international force to implement . . . a political settlement," Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sablière said at the United Nations on Monday. "So it is important to have this political settlement before having the force deployed. And it is very difficult, we think -- premature at least -- to have such a meeting."

France introduced a Security Council resolution on Sunday demanding an immediate cease-fire, and U.S. diplomats worked Monday to draft a competing text. Ambassadors from the United States, France and the other three permanent Security Council members met late in the day to discuss Lebanon, but the United States did not introduce its resolution in hopes of forging a consensus. A European diplomat said U.S., French and British officials would try to merge their ideas over the next 24 hours.

Rice had planned to go to New York for the Security Council discussions and told reporters on her plane she would "push very hard" to win passage of a cease-fire by week's end. "It's time," she said. But after her dinner with Bush, an administration official said it was no longer clear whether Rice would go after all.

The Bush administration envisions a quick, 1-2-3 sequence, with a resolution followed by a cease-fire followed by troop deployment with "near simultaneity," according to a senior State Department official.

"To make this work, you've got to have a force in there very quickly," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions. "If everything works perfectly, they will be ready to launch when the resolution is passed to help and support put a cease-fire into effect."

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