Leaders to meet on crisis in Rome

Jordanian FM: Arabs will insist Lebanon's government curbs Hizbullah.

rome police 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
rome police 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Arabs will insist on an immediate cease-fire and that Lebanon's government curbs the Hizbullah guerrilla group when they discuss the Lebanese-Israeli crisis with Western states in Rome on Wednesday, Jordan's foreign minister said. The one-day meeting in Rome is scheduled to bring together senior foreign envoys, such as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, from a bevy of Western and Arab countries as well as the United Nations and the World Bank. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Illah al-Khatib said the Arab countries would push for two points - "an immediate cease-fire and an end to the (Israeli) assault, as well as to strengthen the ability of the Lebanese government to assert its authority over all its territory." He meant that Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt wanted to help Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora rein in Hizbullah guerrillas, whose capture of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12 began the fighting. Al-Khatib said the Arabs supported the idea of installing an international force in southern Lebanon that can prevent cross-border fighting. The small UN force in south Lebanon has proved unequal to the task. "We want an effective international presence that is capable of stopping the shelling and the war that is launched against Lebanon," he said. But he signaled that Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt would give Lebanon the final word on such an international force. Arabs would support the "Lebanese position on the kind of force, composition and mandate that the Lebanese government will feel comfortable with," he said. "There's continued consultations between Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt on all levels," said al-Khatib, who will represent Jordan at the Rome meeting. Jordan had been in continual contact with Lebanon since the fighting began, he said. But he would not say if his government had consulted Syria and Iran, the two principal sponsors of Hezbollah. Jordan, a key US Arab ally, has had lukewarm relations with Syria since the kingdom signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 - a move which Syrians saw as weakening the Arab position against the Jewish state. Historically, Jordan has had bumpy relations with Iran. It has often accused hard-liners in Teheran of seeking to spread their influence in the region, particularly in Iraq since US-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. Those expected to attend the conference are: Britain, Canada, Egypt, European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, United Nations, United States and the World Bank.