U.N. at Odds with U.S. Over Lebanon Cease-fire

Mark Malloch Brown, deputy secretary general of the United Nations, talks with Renee Montagne about what might be done to end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. The U.N. is calling for an immediate cease-fire, but the Bush Administration says that will not solve the problem.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah is now in its tenth day, with no end in sight. Yesterday, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan denounced the fighting and demanded an immediate halt to the violence.

But the U.S. continues to resist pressure to help bring about a quick cease-fire. The Bush administration says that would solve nothing because it would leave Hezbollah intact, able to mount new attacks against Israel.

Joining me now to discuss the crisis is Mark Malloch Brown. He's deputy secretary general of the U.N. Good morning.

Mr. MARK MALLOCH BROWN (Deputy Secretary General, United Nations): Good morning to you.

MONTAGNE: The Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has put forward a plan to resolve the conflict. Can you give us, in a nutshell, what the U.N. is proposing?

Mr. BROWN: Well, we want an immediate cessation of hostilities. The level of civilian casualties is, at this point, completely, I think, unacceptable in the minds of people all over the world watching this.

But obviously that's not enough. I mean, it's right. We've got to get at the root causes of this. And you - an armed Hezbollah on Israel's border is not something Israel should be expected to live with. So there's got to be a political settlement which gets to that.

There is already in place a Security Council resolution demanding that Hezbollah be disarmed. The other part of that resolution, that Syria leave Lebanon, was successfully achieved by political means last year. We have to find a way of doing the same with Hezbollah.

And then the secretary general believes that probably there needs to be some kind of international enforcement capacity to make sure that the agreement is respected, and hence the talk of a much larger, stronger international stabilization force than the current U.N. observer mission that we have in southern Lebanon.

MONTAGNE: Right. That was of course a big problem with Resolution 1559, there was no teeth in the resolution, really, no implementation helping the fragile Lebanese government.

But back to the cease-fire. Specifically, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, asked yesterday, how do you get a terrorist group to agree to a cease-fire?

Mr. BROWN: Well, you know, there've been lots of terrorist groups over the years that have agreed to a cease-fire. You can tell from my accent that I am from Britain. We grew up under the shadow of the IRA continuously blowing up parts of London, yet ultimately the British government had to deal with them as a political force. And today, thank goodness, that threat is removed from the streets and civilians of London and England.

And so there's plenty of examples. But actually when we talk as we do about a cessation of hostilities rather than a cease-fire it assumes that at least initially it's just both sides stopping the shooting and the bombing, and that out of that lull will come more formal arrangements including a quick return of the Israeli hostages. Over time, the release from jail in Gaza of Hamas members of the cabinet there, and a series of other steps which will move to normalize the immediate situation.

But then from there, you have to move to these longer term issues, which, Israeli is right, have been left unaddressed for too long.

MONTAGNE: Well, in a way though, the way you're speaking, it sounds like you almost have to sort out the larger issues before you get to the immediate cease-fire. Those are very, very complicated and problematic issues.

Mr. BROWN: Well, I don't think so. I mean, first we're saying stop the shooting now, immediately, and then move - create a diplomatic space to start dealing with these things; the easier short-term ones first and then building on. And we think that's a much more practical approach then those who argue, you know, go on fighting until you've dealt with the larger issues.

The Middle East is, I'm afraid, awash with examples of believing that you can solve these problems militarily, and yet they have a terrible habit of coming back. Because unless you recognize that they do draw on political sources of support, however wrong and unreasonable many might consider those sources of support, until you understand and address the political dimension of (unintelligible)...

MONTAGNE: Right, but the U.S.…

Mr. BROWN: ...movement, you won't solve the problem.

MONTAGNE: Right. The U.S., though, in this case has given Israel the green light to continue its offensive. How will you get a ceasefire in that situation?

Mr. BROWN: Well, I think it's very difficult. But I think you're going to see public opinion both in the United States and around the world being increasingly perplexed that the real victims of this conflict are not, it seems, Hezbollah, in terms of the casualty numbers, but ordinary Lebanese civilians and of course their Israeli counterparts.

Of these 300 or more Lebanese who have so far died, almost a third are children. It's hard to imagine they were Hezbollah activists. And then while it's very hard to distinguish exactly who's Hezbollah and who's not, the reporting seems to suggest, and our own humanitarian workers are suggesting that, you know, overwhelmingly it is innocent civilians who are dying.

And I think, you know, whoever's giving who a green light - I think the huge public relations disaster of this kind of deaths of large numbers of civilians will be unsustainable for very long. The world will demand and - you know, Israel is a country with a very sensitive ear to international public opinion and I'm sure, over time, they will respond to the fact that people just can't accept this in (unintelligible) age.

MONTAGNE: Thank you. Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. BROWN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: U.N. Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown.

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