Bush Calls for Peacekeepers — But Where Are They?

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on the prospects of an international force for Lebanon. Everyone thinks it's a grand idea, but there are few volunteers.

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Many countries are embracing the idea of a new international peacekeeping force for Lebanon, but at the moment few are offering publicly to join and diplomats also must agree on what such a force can and should do.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said little about how she envisions an international force for Lebanon, only that U.S. combat troops won't be a part of it. One of her top aides has been speaking with NATO officials and talking directly with officials in France and Turkey. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has scheduled a meeting for Monday afternoon with potential troop contributors.

Mr. KOFI ANNAN (Secretary General, United Nations): The time has come for us to really be action-oriented and concrete steps that can be taken to help the protagonists and the civilians who are caught in the middle.

KELEMEN: At the State Department, spokesman Tom Casey said there's no decision yet on whether this will be a U.N., NATO or some other multinational force. Michael Eisenstat, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says a stabilization force will have to look much different from the current U.N. force, which has been in southern Lebanon for the past 28 years.

Mr. MICHAEL EISENSTAT (Washington Institute for Near East Policy): It has to be a much larger, a much more capable force and it probably has to include light and mechanized infantry, armor, light artillery, as well as special forces who are capable of conducting a counterinsurgency and counterterrorist type operations.

KELEMEN: The idea would be to help the Lebanese government regain control over its territory and its border with Israel. Eisenstat says it's a long shot but better than the alternative of a wider war. One big stumbling block is that Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government and therefore will have to agree on an outside force.

Amal Saad Ghorayeb, who's written a book about Hezbollah, says the Shiite militia is unlikely to agree on what international diplomats are talking about.

Ms. AMAL SAAD GHORAYEB (Lebanese American University): If they want something much stronger, then clearly it's aim would be to disarm Hezbollah, to push Hezbollah away from the border. And given the current conflict, Hezbollah is not going to allow any force to come and deter it from defending Lebanese territory.

KELEMEN: Saad Ghorayeb, who teaches at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, says the Shiite militia is in a powerful position now.

Ms. SAAD GHORAYEB: It's more influential than any other party now, isn't it? Because it's the armed force on the ground. The Lebanese government can't negotiate on behalf of anyone because the Lebanese government is not fighting Israel at the moment. It's not the armed party here, is it?

KELEMEN: She says Hezbollah might agree to some sort of outside force if there is a peace to keep. Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Carter's national security advisor, says the U.S. has to help negotiate a cease-fire if it wants to get a strong international force on the ground.

Mr. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI (Former U.S. National Security Advisor): Nobody one will come in if there's no cease-fire. No one's going to go and justify the Hezbollah. It we can find some formula for a cease-fire which permits that to take place, sooner or later - and I don't think later is going to be easier than sooner - then we'll have set an important precedent for ensuring in the long run the security of Israel in its relations with its neighbors.

KELEMEN: Brzezinski was speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The director of the Middle East program there, Jon Alterman, is far more skeptical about an international stabilization force as long as Hezbollah remains an armed militia.

Mr. JON ALTERMAN (Center for Strategic and International Studies): I've seen peacekeeping forces work. I've never seen peacemaking forces work. And it seems to me that this is essentially a peacemaking force.

KELEMEN: Alterman said he can't imagine how to begin writing the rules of engagement, a task that will fall to diplomats at the U.N. Security Council. Many there are still shaken by the deaths of four U.N. monitors killed in an Israeli airstrike in Lebanon this week.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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