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US and France Clash over Ceasefire Plan Facing Collapse
Published on Thursday, August 10, 2006 by the Independent / UK
US and France Clash over Ceasefire Plan Facing Collapse
by David Usborne and Anne Penketh
 

A draft UN ceasefire resolution on Lebanon was unravelling last night as the two co-sponsors, France and the United States, bickered over several key provisions, notably the timing of an Israeli withdrawal.

Dramatising the difficulties, the French President, Jacques Chirac, publicly warned the US against allowing the initiative to fail, suggesting it would be "immoral". Ominously, he said that in such a circumstance France would table a resolution on its own. British diplomats expressed frustration with France, which would be expected to lead a multinational force in southern Lebanon. The Foreign minister, Kim Howells, said: " What we need is a bit more diplomatic work, , and a bit less posturing."

As an old rift between France and the US threatened to reopen, other diplomats suggested that France misled the US over the level of Lebanese support for the draft resolution.

The two countries first tabled a draft ceasefire text last weekend, but then found themselves at odds when the Lebanese government, backed by the Arab League, complained that it was unfairly tilted towards Israel.

"Part of the resolution is unravelling, it's deeply frustrating," one diplomat said.

A breakdown of the talks could seriously delay any ceasefire resolution emerging and prolong the fighting. It would also represent a crushing blow to the UN's credibility at a time of deep crisis in the Middle East.

No one at the UN last night seemed able to predict how quickly the French and the Americans would agree, or if they would at all. Further complicating diplomacy in New York yesterday was the agreement by the Israeli cabinet to push deeper into Lebanon, even though it may put off starting the new advance for three days, ostensibly to allow time for the UN talks.

"If they advance further I can't see how this is going to be helpful," one frustrated senior diplomat said.

John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, and his French counterpart, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, continued to meet behind closed doors and denied they had reached a stalemate on the text.

Most importantly, France appeared more interested than the Americans in an offer by Lebanon on Monday to deploy 15,000 soldiers to secure the south when the ceasefire begins. Tied to that would be clearer language on a phased withdrawal of Israeli troops.

Washington, however, is concerned that leaving the territory in the care of mostly Lebanese forces would leave a dangerous vacuum.

Last night, Tony Blair, currently holidaying in Barbados, discussed his latest proposals in a telephone call with George Bush. Downing Street sources said Mr Blair's plan involved deploying a mixture of Lebanese troops and a strengthened UN force.

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

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