BUSH CALLS NEED FOR ROBUST LEBANON FORCE ‘URGENT,’ AS EUROPEANS CONTINUE
By HELENE COOPER
Published: August 22, 2006
WASHINGTON, Aug. 21 — President Bush called Monday for a swift deployment of United
Nations peacekeeping troops to southern Lebanon
to help enforce a fragile cease-fire, as European governments continued to put off committing their forces to the effort.
“The need is urgent,”
Mr. Bush said during an hourlong news conference. “The international community must now designate the leadership of
this new international force, give it robust rules of engagement and deploy it as quickly as possible to secure the peace.”
Mr. Bush said the United
States would contribute $230 million in relief and reconstruction aid to Lebanon, and would also prod American companies to help the effort.
But the biggest obstacle to rebuilding Lebanon right now is the slow pace of assembling an international
A United Nations resolution on Aug. 11 authorized
a force of up to 15,000 troops, but diplomats are already talking of reducing that number substantially, particularly in light
of France’s refusal so far to commit
more than 200 troops, including a large number of engineers.
Diplomats in New York
and Washington said the peacekeeping force would probably
not number more than 6,000 or 7,000 troops.
The question is whether that will be enough
to enforce a cease-fire, particularly if the force’s mandate also extends to preventing Hezbollah from resupplying itself
with arms and munitions, and dealing with the disputed area of Shabaa Farms.
Potential contributors, many of whom helped
draft the resolution that authorized the force, are also expressing concern about the rules of engagement, including what
troops would be required to do, and who would disarm Hezbollah.
Prime Minister Romano Prodi of Italy told reporters on Monday that his country was ready
to lead the force, Reuters reported. Reuters said Italy
would contribute perhaps 2,000 troops.
Denmark, Sweden and Norway have not announced any formal troop contributions,
but may do so after a European Union meeting on the issue on Wednesday.
Several Muslim countries have pledged troops,
but that effort has also become complicated, because Israel has said it does not want countries in the force that do not have
diplomatic relations with it.
The delay has heightened concern that the cease-fire
brokered by the United States and France,
which wobbled somewhat on Saturday after Israel launched strikes in the
Bekaa, the central valley in Lebanon,
might crumble. In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel described the situation in Lebanon as “very fragile.”
Mr. Bush said: “An international force
requires international commitment. Previous resolutions have failed in Lebanon
because they were not implemented by the international community, and in this case, did not prevent Hezbollah and their sponsors
from instigating violence.”
There was some confusion on Monday after Mr.
Bush said there would be another resolution coming out of the United Nations to give “further instructions” to
the peacekeeping force. While the original resolution expressed the Security Council’s “intention to consider
a later resolution” to enhance the force’s mandate and take steps to secure a long-term political solution, American
officials hastened to correct the impression that the new measure was imminent or that it could delay the deployment of a
“I don’t think we have a particular
view on time,” said John R. Bolton, the American ambassador, when asked about the president’s reference. “There’s
no reason that it should hold up deployment.”
Mr. Bolton told reporters after a morning Security
Council session that a robust international force needed to get on the ground in Lebanon as soon as possible. Asked how confident he was that the United Nations
could come up with the numbers it needs, Mr. Bolton said: “I think it’s still a work in progress. I think that’s
the best I can say.”
France, after initially indicating that it
would lead the force with a substantial troop contribution, has come under fire for its offer of only 200 troops, particularly
given that it negotiated the resolution calling for the force — and laid out the rules of engagement that it now says
it does not understand.
Beyond that, France, once Lebanon’s colonial master, has a historical relationship that led many to believe it
was inconceivable that France would not
lead the peacekeeping contingent with a strong contribution.
“I would hope they would put more troops
in,” Mr. Bush said. “They understand the region as well as anybody.”
The French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy,
on Sunday held out hope that France might
yet go beyond that number.
“We want the United Nations to define
more clearly the missions, chain of command,” he said in an interview with French radio. “What freedom of movement
will this force have? How should it respond to an incident on the ground?”
Western diplomats said a schism between the
French Foreign Ministry and the country’s military command may be responsible for the pullback.
“This was a classic case where the Foreign
Ministry decides something and then the military pulls them back,” one senior American official said.
The official, who asked that his name not be
used because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue, compared the French split to similar tensions between former
Secretary of State Colin Powell and Vice President Dick Cheney.
“It’s like when Powell would negotiate
something, and Cheney would say no,” the official said.
But however much Bush administration officials
might understand the French predicament, it leaves them in the position of trying to rally support from other countries.
American officials are talking to their Italian
counterparts, as well as to diplomats in Denmark, Sweden
Daniel Keohane, a defense specialist at the
Center for European Reform, a London-based research institute, offered another view of why the French may have stepped back.
“The French don’t want to be seen
occupying a Muslim country, particularly because of their history in Algeria.
Shooting at the Israeli Defense Forces also would not go down well with the French Jewish community,” he said.
He added that the Germans had similar anxieties
about deploying ground troops.
Mr. Keohane said the Italians “have less
baggage than the French” because there are fewer Jews in Italy
and because the Italians have less of a history of colonizing Muslim countries.
Except for the response by Italy, the European reaction to a Lebanon
force so far has been dismal, United Nations officials said.
“They’ve offered ships and frigates
to police the Mediterranean,” said one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity
under normal diplomatic rules. “We need boots, not boats.”