Annan backs bigger, better armed U.N. force for Lebanon
BRUSSELS, Belgium – U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called Tuesday for ending the latest Middle East crisis by establishing an international force in Lebanon, saying it would have to be stronger than the largely ineffectual U.N. peacekeeping force that has been there for nearly three decades.Lebanon – badly battered by Israeli bombardment in the past week – has itself sought international help in extending its control to the border with Israel. Backed by Syria and Iran, Hezbollah guerrillas have used south Lebanon as a base to launch attacks and missiles against the Jewish state.Annan said the Lebanese government needed time to establish full control over the south and that a new force was needed – one larger and stronger than the existing outfit that numbers 2,000 troops and has lacked a strong mandate.Annan said the new force would have “different capabilities.””It is urgent that the international community acts to make a difference on the ground,” he said.Annan provided few details, saying the Security Council “will have to discuss this and define the specific mandate for one to be able to talk in more concrete terms.”John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said that the Security Council shouldn’t start talking about sending such a force until it knows how the conflict is going to be resolved.”I think it’s the cart before the horse to talk about applying force before we know what the overall military or political resolution is like to be,” he told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.Bolton said that in examining the possibility of a new force there are a range of questions to be answered, including if it should be empowered to disarm HezbollahUNIFIL – the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon – was created in 1978 to boost Beirut’s authority after the first Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and it has remained, at various levels of deployment, through a second Israeli invasion and an 18-year Israeli occupation of the south; since Israel’s May 2000 pullout, UNIFIL has not interfered with Hezbollah’s control of the area.A new force could be larger, better armed, with a mandate to use force and with resolute backing of the major Western powers.British Prime Minister Tony Blair raised the idea of such a force Monday at the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, calling it the “only way we’re going to get a cessation of hostilities” between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.On Tuesday, there appeared to be diplomatic momentum in favor of such an outcome.Annan met with EU chief Jose Manuel Barroso, who said several EU nations are willing to contribute forces to a Lebanon “stabilization force” if the Security Council agrees to form one.At a news conference with Annan, Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign and security chief, said the EU was “ready to help.”Solana, who was in Lebanon over the weekend, planned to go to Israel later Tuesday, then to Egypt and the West Bank. Officials said he planned to speak with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before leaving.Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni appeared to tacitly endorse the notion of an international force, which would constitute a revision of Israel’s demand that the Lebanese army itself deploy along its border.Securing south Lebanon “requires activity by the Lebanese government, with the oversight (and) assistance of the international community,” Livni said. She added, however, that Israel would not view an international force as the long-term solution.A key question would be whether any new force would be able to use force to prevent Hezbollah from approaching the border or firing rockets – or, indeed, to stop any Israeli invasion.Israel has criticized UNIFIL, saying it has stood by while Hezbollah launches cross-border attacks. Israel has also frequently flown into Lebanese airspace on reconnaissance missions, its planes drawing Lebanese anti-aircraft fire.But its mandate stops it from doing much more than reporting the violations of the Blue Line, the U.N.-demarcated withdrawal line.