EU statement ambiguous on cease-fire

Alter ME cease-fire plan, appealing to all parties to protect populations.

Deep European divisions regarding the best way to end the war in Lebanon were revealed in a key sentence of an EU foreign ministers statement issued Tuesday calling for "an immediate cessation of hostilities to be followed by a sustainable cease-fire." This sentence, according to diplomatic officials, was a compromise between the French and Finnish position calling for an immediate cease-fire, and the British, German and Czech positions - closer to the American and Israeli stance - that wants to see the cease-fire come into effect as part of a greater agreement on Lebanon, which includes the creation of an international force that will help the Lebanese government exercise its sovereignty over the entire country. Had the EU wanted to see an immediate end to the fighting, one official said, it would have called for an immediate cease-fire, period. That it came out with a somewhat convoluted sentence instead, saying that it wanted to see "an immediate cessation of hostilities to be followed by a sustainable cease-fire" meant something else. For instance, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the EU agreement did not mean an immediate cease-fire. "Cessation of hostilities is not the same as a cease-fire," he said. "A cease-fire can perhaps be achieved later... We can now only ask the UN Security Council and put pressure on it and not to waste any more time." The statement was issued after a four-hour emergency meeting of the Council of the European Union that included the foreign ministers of the 25 EU countries. Finland, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU and has been pushing, along with the French, for an immediate cease-fire, circulated an initial draft that read, "The Council called for an immediate cease-fire." Spain, Sweden and Greece also reportedly backed this proposal. Britain, Germany and the Czech Republic, along with Poland and Denmark, objected to that wording, and the compromise sentence was born. Another sentence in the draft statement - warning that "disregard for necessary precautions to avoid loss of civilian life constitutes a severe breach of international humanitarian law" - was also softened to read, "All parties must do everything possible to protect civilian populations and to refrain from actions in violation of international humanitarian law." Officials in Jerusalem said that while the EU statement by no means gave Israel a "green light" in Lebanon, it did give support to Israel's position that a cease-fire needed to be part of a bundle of steps that would fundamentally change the situation in Lebanon. The statement said that the council "fully supports the efforts of the UN Secretary General and the Security Council to be rapidly convened to define a political framework for a lasting solution agreed by all parties, which is a necessary precondition for deployment of an international force." The foreign ministers said this force would require a strong mandate from the UN "to act in support of a political settlement and the Lebanese armed forces. Once this framework has been established, EU Member States have indicated their readiness to contribute to such an operation together with international partners." Israeli government sources said the issue was likely to reach the UN Security Council on Thursday, but it was not clear when it would come to a vote. Each day that the matter does not come to a vote is widely perceived as giving the IDF additional time in Lebanon. AP contributed to this report.