U.N. Talks Focus on Terms of Cease-Fire

Tarek Mitri, Lebanon's acting foreign minister, said at the United Nations that Hezbollah, with new support, would resist a European-led intervention force.
Tarek Mitri, Lebanon's acting foreign minister, said at the United Nations that Hezbollah, with new support, would resist a European-led intervention force. (By Osamu Honda -- Associated Press)
By Colum Lynch and Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 3, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 2 -- 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."

While U.S. and French officials reported progress in discussions on a U.N. resolution, diplomats said some key differences remained, including whether to call for an immediate end to the hostilities, as the French prefer, or only an end to offensive military operations, which the U.S. side advocates to allow Israel to defend itself. British diplomats appear to lean more toward the French phrasing.

Under the emerging approach favored by the Americans, a full cease-fire might not take place until a second resolution is approved by the Security Council. "The idea is you stop the fighting first, put in place the political principle and then you would go to a second resolution with a complete cease-fire and authorize . . . force," one senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Diplomats said the French and United States largely agree on a set of principles, outlined in the resolution, that would attempt to reach a lasting solution, including clearing the area between Israel's border and the Litani River of all armed personnel and weapons other than the Lebanese military and a U.N.-mandated force.

Diplomats expect that the second resolution would authorize the deployment of a U.N.-mandated international force, but the French and Americans have not agreed on the precise language. Both sides agree U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan should try to present a plan within 30 days to delineate the international borders of Lebanon, including the disputed Shebaa Farms area.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said earlier this week that she anticipated reaching an agreement this week, but diplomats said Wednesday it was unlikely that would occur until next week. Rice plans to consult with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., over the weekend.

France had advocated a plan for an immediate halt to the fighting and a political agreement before an international force is deployed. The United States has taken the position that a cease-fire will succeed only if it is part of a broader political settlement that would help the Lebanese government extend its authority through southern areas now controlled by Hezbollah.

Another senior U.S. official, echoing others, said be believes the two sides are close to an agreement that would "bridge" their differences. "I think that we and the French agree on that framework," the official said. "There's always issues of timing and sequence, and that's what a lot of these things come down to."

But in another sign of Hezbollah's growing political clout, U.N. Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown contested characterizations of the Lebanese militia as a terrorist organization in the mold of al-Qaeda and challenged the U.S. diplomatic approach to the crisis. In remarks published Wednesday, he told the Financial Times: "It's not helpful to couch this war in the language of international terrorism."

He said that while Hezbollah "employs terrorist tactics," it is "an organization whose roots historically are completely separate and different from al-Qaeda."

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