U.S., France At Odds on Resolution For Mideast

By Colum Lynch and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 9, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 8 -- The United States and France have split over key provisions in a compromise resolution to end hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel, triggering intense diplomatic scrambling, according to European and U.S. officials.

The two co-sponsors of the resolution had agreed on the need for changes after Lebanon's proposal Monday to deploy 15,000 troops in the south, but Washington and Paris have basic differences over the issues and the scope of other modifications that Beirut had requested.

France wants to incorporate ideas from Lebanon's new proposals, particularly on two issues: deploying Lebanese troops alongside a more robust version of the U.N. force now in Lebanon as a means to expedite an Israeli withdrawal, and settling the status of Shebaa Farms, the officials said.

But the United States, which has accepted Israel's concerns on both issues, thinks that a strong international force still needs to be in place before an Israeli withdrawal to ensure that the Shiite militia is not able to resume control of southern Lebanon or shoot at Israeli forces as they pull out, U.S. and European officials say.

The Bush administration also does not want to offer more specific language on Shebaa Farms -- the disputed border area that abuts Israel, Lebanon and Syria that Hezbollah has used to justify keeping its weapons -- for fear it would be seen as a reward to the Shiite movement, European officials say.

"We have differences on how to incorporate the needs of the Lebanese," a French official said.

French President Jacques Chirac will hold talks Wednesday with his prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister to review the situation. France thinks that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora needs to have Lebanon's concerns taken into account to be able to persuade Hezbollah to cooperate and eventually disarm, French officials say.

If Lebanon's proposals are not incorporated in some significant way, France fears the fragile Beirut government will break apart and throw Lebanon into political chaos, making a resolution far more difficult, the officials say.

In a special Security Council session Tuesday, a high-level Arab League delegation appealed for a resolution that includes an immediate halt to Israel's offensive against Hezbollah and its withdrawal from southern Lebanon, warning that Israel's continued presence threatens to trigger a civil war.

The Arab initiative reflected mounting concern by Lebanese officials that Hezbollah and its key foreign backers, Iran and Syria, would resist a U.S.-backed plan to send an international force to the region to ensure an end to attacks against Israel.

The proposal has complicated efforts by the United States and France to seek passage of a resolution that would call for a full cessation of hostilities in southern Lebanon but allow Israeli troops to remain until an international force is deployed along the border.

Key sticking points include the timing of Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the mandate of a new international force for the south. The Lebanese favor expanding a U.N. peacekeeping operation to help the Lebanese army restore control over the south.

"The draft resolution not only falls short of meeting many of our legitimate requirements, but it also may not bring about the results that the international community hopes to achieve," said Tarek Mitri, special envoy to the Lebanese council of ministers.

But Israel insists that a robust European-led multinational force with the authority to fight be sent to the region. It says that the 2,000-strong U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon is too weak to restrain Hezbollah.

The Arab League secretary general and foreign ministers from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates warned that the deployment of a heavily armed Western force could plunge the region into chaos. "If we adopt resolutions without fully considering the reality of Lebanon, we will face a civil war," Qatari Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jasim al-Thani said.

Wright reported from Washington.

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