U.S. says U.N. force needs to deploy quickly, new resolution may be needed later
UNITED NATIONS – The United States called Monday for the quick deployment of an expanded U.N. force in southern Lebanon and said a new U.N. resolution may be needed later to focus on disarming Hezbollah militants and enforcing an arms embargo.Italy offered to replace France as head of the force after Paris disappointed top U.N. and U.S. officials by making only a small pledge of 200 new troops. By contrast, Italy has indicated it would be prepared to send 3,000 soldiers. If Rome follows through, other European countries might be more willing to commit troops, as the U.S. has been urging.Noting the fragility of the Israeli-Hezbollah cease-fire, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton made clear that the top priority for the United States is to get an additional 3,500 soldiers on the ground by next Monday and then quickly increase the force to 15,000 troops, joining an equal number of Lebanese troops.But he said the issue of disarming Hezbollah, key to establishing lasting peace between Lebanon and Israel, will likely have to be addressed “in due course” in a new resolution.Hezbollah is already required to disarm under a September 2004 U.N. resolution, and council diplomats are certain to look carefully at exactly what a new resolution would do. If it authorizes the U.N. force to disarm the guerrillas, there would likely be strong opposition from those who believe that disarmament should be carried out only as a result of an agreement between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government.But in any event, getting boots on the ground is key, said Bolton’s spokesman Richard Grenell.”It’s premature to talk about the timing of a second resolution at this point,” he said. “Our priority right now is to get a robust international force on the ground.”While several Muslim nations have pledged troops to the new force, there have been no major pledges from European countries. The U.S. wants broad European participation to ensure that the U.N. contingent is balanced and broadly acceptable to both the Israelis and Lebanese.The European Union’s Peace and Security Committee added the issue of contributions to the force, known as UNIFIL, to its agenda on Wednesday. But one European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, cautioned against any major new announcements.France, which leads the current 2,000-strong force, had been expected to make a significant new contribution and continue its command.But President Jacques Chirac, wary of getting involved without a clear U.N. mandate to use firepower if necessary, announced last week that France would immediately add just 200 combat engineers to its 200 troops already serving in UNIFIL, though he didn’t rule out a future increase. France said it was willing to continue leading the force until February.Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Monday he told U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Italy is willing to command the U.N. force. “It is a decision that Kofi Annan will take at the end of broad consultations,” Prodi said, according to the Italian news agencies ANSA and Apcom.The United States and France co-sponsored the cease-fire resolution that was unanimously adopted by the U.N. Security Council and led to the Aug. 14 cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. The resolution also authorized deployment of an expanded U.N. force, and U.S. and French military experts played key roles in drafting its rules of engagement and concept of operations.Some potential troop contributors, however, have expressed concern about the rules of engagement – and exactly what troops would be required to do, especially regarding the disarming of Hezbollah. French diplomats, for example, have made clear that the current rules do not call for arms to be taken from Hezbollah fighters.The Security Council received a briefing Monday on the latest situation in Lebanon and efforts by the U.N. peacekeeping department to put together an expanded force rapidly.Asked afterward how confident he was that the U.N. can come up with the numbers it needs, Bolton replied, “I think it’s still a work in progress. I think that’s the best I can say.””I don’t think there’s any doubt in our mind of the urgency of the deployment of the full, enhanced UNIFIL as soon as possible,” he said.He said countries are reluctant to provide peacekeepers because “it’s obviously a very dangerous situation.””The cease-fire is quite fragile, and I think … countries that are trying to take this decision want to be sure that their troops will have the maximum opportunity to defend themselves,” Bolton said. “That’s one of the reasons why we had sought, and others sought, a very robust mandate for the force and why this may still remain to be worked out.”Diplomats said some countries are also concerned about putting their troops under U.N. command, and have domestic political issues with deploying troops to Lebanon.President Bush talked about a new resolution at a news conference in Washington when he was asked whether the United States would demand that U.N. peacekeepers disarm Hezbollah.”There will be another resolution coming out of the United Nations, giving further instructions to the international force,” he said. “First things first is to get the rules of engagement clear so that the force will be robust to help the Lebanese.””One thing … for certain is that when this force goes in to help Lebanon, Hezbollah won’t have that safe haven or that kind of freedom to run in Lebanon’s southern border,” Bush said.Bolton told reporters afterward that the U.S. had hoped to address all key issues in one resolution, but “we knew because of the difficulties and the complexities involved that more than one resolution would be required.”Bolton stressed that the goal is to have the combined U.N. and Lebanese forces lead to the extension of Lebanese government authority throughout the south, which is controlled by Hezbollah.He stressed that the U.S. “road map” includes full implementation of a resolution adopted by the Security Council two years ago that calls for the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon.”So the question of dealing with Hezbollah – or whether they deal with themselves by becoming a real political party instead of a terrorist group – is obviously on the agenda,” he said.
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