Lebanese parliament speaker rejects Rice proposals

Lebanon's parliament speaker, Hizbullah's de facto negotiator, rejected proposals brought by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday, insisting a cease-fire must precede any talks about resolving Hizbullah's presence in the south, an official close to the speaker said. Rice's talks with Prime Minister Fuad Saniora also appeared to have been tense. Saniora told Rice that Israel's bombardment was taking his country "backwards 50 years" and also called for a "swift cease-fire," the prime minister's office said. An official close to parliament speaker Nabi Berri said his talks with Rice "reached agreement because Rice insisted on one full package to end the fighting." The package included a cease-fire, simultaneous with the deployment of the Lebanese army and an international force in south Lebanon and the removal of Hizbullah weapons from a buffer zone extending 30 kilometers from the Israeli border, said the official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were private. Berri rejected the package, proposing instead a two-phased plan. First would come a cease-fire and negotiations for a prisoner swap. Then an inter-Lebanese dialogue would work out a solution to the situation in south Lebanon.