French President Jacques Chirac said Wednesday that NATO should not lead a proposed international force in Lebanon, saying the alliance is seen in the region as "the armed wing of the West."
"As far as France is concerned, it is not NATO's mission to put together such a force," Chirac told the daily newspaper Le Monde
. "Whether we like it or not, NATO is perceived as the armed wing of the West in these regions, and as a result, in terms of image, NATO is not intended for this."
Israel has suggested it would prefer a NATO-led coalition in Lebanon, not the traditional UN peacekeeping force that has tried but failed to bring peace to Lebanon over the last three decades.
France has said a multinational force should be placed under United Nations authority.
Chirac's comments were published as officials from the United States, Europe and several Arab nations met in Rome to try to agree on a plan for ending more than two weeks of fighting between Israel and Hizbullah guerillas.
Meanwhile, Vice Premier Shimon Peres said Wednesday that without Israel, there would be no bilateral solution to the Middle East crisis. Peres made his remarks in response to the fact that Israel was not represented at the Rome conference.