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Facing mounting difficulties in forming an international force for Southern Lebanon, US President George W. Bush urged world nations Monday to send their troops to take part in the force.
At a special White House press conference, Bush said there is an urgent need to build the peacekeeping force in order to maintain the cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah, and is pushing for a new UN resolution that will broaden the responsibilities of the force.
"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," Bush said in his opening remarks, adding that an effective international force will help ensure the calm in the region, assist the Lebanese army as it deploys in the south and enable Israelis and Lebanese to rebuild their homes and return to normal lives.
The US-brokered cease-fire, based on UN resolution 1701, is under threat of collapsing due to the difficulty in recruiting nations to send troops to the force. France, which was initially supposed to lead the force, is sending only 200 soldiers, far short from the 3,500 troops needed for the initial phase of the deployment. The UN resolution calls for up to 15,000 troops when the deployment is completed, but UN members are reluctant to send their soldiers to the region.
US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton pointed to the fact that Hizbullah is still armed and active as the main factor that deters countries from sending troops to the force, saying that until the group is disarmed, it has the power to threaten both international peacekeepers and the Lebanese army.
The US is now trying to broaden the responsibilities of the international force by passing a new UN resolution which will call for the force to disarm Hizbullah. Bush said at his press conference that such a resolution will be passed in the future and that it will deal with the rules of engagement of the force. Bolton said there is no date set for a second UN resolution, but that there is a need to disarm Hizbullah as stated in UN Resolution 1559.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to present his initial report dealing with the responsibilities and rules of engagement of the international force Tuesday. The report, which was already leaked to the press earlier this week, maintains that the force will be allowed to confront Hizbullah militiamen while enforcing the UN resolution in southern Lebanon.
The countries that expressed interest in sending forces to the multinational force will convene at the UN on Tuesday to discuss the formation of the force. Seventy countries were invited to attend the meeting, yet it is not clear yet how many are actually willing to send forces.
The US made clear it will not send its own troops to Lebanon, but Bush promised that his country would provide the force with logistical help, intelligence and command-and-control assistance. Bush also pledged $230 million to help rebuild Lebanon and also said he was working with Congress to spread out Israel's loan guarantees to help Israel deal with the damage created by the war.
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