US: Lebanese force would need help

Lebanese army "not robust enough to exercise total control of s. Lebanon."

fuad saniora 298 88 (photo credit: AP)
fuad saniora 298 88
(photo credit: AP)
The United States is willing to consider a Lebanese proposal to move armed forces into Hizbullah-controlled areas but is convinced that Lebanon is not equipped to handle the job on its own, the White House said Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Bush administration worked behind the scenes to ready a joint US-French cease-fire proposal for a vote at the United Nations Security Council this week. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to address the council at a vote tentatively scheduled for Thursday. The issue of who will patrol southern Lebanon has become the dominant sticking point in UN cease-fire negotiations. IDF ground troops currently are in the area, and Lebanon and other Arab nations are insisting they must leave before an agreement can be reached. President George W. Bush said Monday that he wants an international force to replace the Israeli soldiers, but that could take weeks. "The administration understands that the Lebanese armed forces are going to need some help, and we're working with allies to try to figure out the proper way to do it," White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters gathered near the president's vacation home. Lebanon offered to send up to 15,000 troops to the region to assert control over Hizbullah. Snow said the White House did not consider the offer a setback to negotiations over a cease-fire resolution among members of the UN Security Council. At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack called the Lebanese offer important and "a necessary step for peace," but echoed the view that the Lebanese forces could not do the job alone. "You will need international forces to support the Lebanese armed forces," he said. "They are not, at this point, a robust enough entity to be able to, on their own, exercise total control of that southern area of Lebanon. That's why you have the need for an international force." McCormack did not rule out that the eventual international military force could be a beefed-up version of a United Nations monitoring force that is already deployed in southern Lebanon. The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was created in 1978 with a weak mandate. It has done little to counter Hizbullah. The United States does not intend to contribute troops to the eventual force, but may provide logistical or other support. The United States and France circulated the first draft resolution of a cease-fire resolution on Saturday. They demanded that Hizbullah stop all attacks and that Israel end all offensive operations. That distinction drew criticism from Lebanon, which was also angered that the resolution mentioned nothing about a timetable for Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon. A delegation of Arab foreign ministers relayed Lebanon's concerns directly to the Security Council on Tuesday. In quiet negotiations, US and French diplomats sought to amend the resolution to allay Lebanon's fears that the draft favored Israel.