Call for Lebanon Cease-Fire Gains Momentum at U.N.

Now that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is back from the Middle East, diplomatic efforts to stop the fighting in Lebanon shift to the U.N. Security Council. Diplomats at the U.N. are considering a resolution that puts the emphasis on an immediate halt to the fighting, a position at odds with the United States and Israel.

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DON GONYEA, host:

Now that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is back from the Middle East, diplomacy on Lebanon shifts to the United Nations Security Council. President Bush says he wants the Security Council to pass a resolution that deals with what he calls the root causes of the conflict - Hezbollah and its backers. But U.N. diplomats are already considering a resolution that puts the emphasis on an immediate halt to the fighting.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELLE KELEMEN reporting:

The deadly Israeli air strike on residential building in Qana, Lebanon over the weekend has sparked more urgent calls for a cease-fire. President Bush, though, has kept to his script. He says his idea of a U.N. Security Council resolution would be to get a sustainable cease-fire and empower Lebanon's government to exercise authority over its territory.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: A multinational force must be dispatched to Lebanon quickly so we can help speed the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Lebanese people. Iran must end its financial support and supply of weapons to terrorist groups like Hezbollah. Syria must end its support for terror and respect the sovereignty of Lebanon.

KELEMEN: But the Bush administration doesn't talk to Syria or Iran, and that position has put it at odds with other U.S. allies including France, which is expected to play a leading role in an eventual stabilization force for Lebanon. The foreign minister of France said yesterday that Iran is crucial to the stability of the Middle East, and he met his Iranian counterpart in Beirut.

As for the stabilization force, the U.N. had to postpone a meeting with potential troop contributors. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said it was merely a scheduling issue, but French Ambassador Jean-Marc De La Sabliere signaled deeper differences.

Ambassador JEAN-MARC DE LA SABLIERE (French Ambassador to the United Nations): We thought it was premature. You know, France is in favor of setting up an international force to implement a political settlement.

KELEMEN: France has drawn up its own draft U.N. Security Council resolution, which calls for an immediate halt to fighting and seeks a new buffer zone in southern Lebanon. De La Sabliere said that Israel and the Lebanese government, which includes Hezbollah, have to reach a political settlement before a force can go in. And he made clear that while disarming Hezbollah is important, that should not be the job of an international force.

Amb. DE LA SABLIERE: Having a de-militarized zone where only the Lebanese army and an international force would be allowed, you know, is something which is the proper thing to do.

KELEMEN: The draft resolution his country has been circulating touches on another controversial aspect of the conflict: the future of Sheba Farms, which is still occupied by Israel and claimed by both Lebanon and Syria. Analysts say that Hezbollah uses Israel's occupation of the land as a pretext for maintaining an armed presence along Israel's borders. At the U.N. Security Council yesterday, Lebanon's acting foreign minister, Tariq Mitri(ph), appealed for some help.

Mr. TARIQ MITRI (Acting Foreign Minister, Lebanon): A commitment from the Security Council to place the Shebaa Farms and the Kafr Shuba Hills under U.N. jurisdiction until border delineation and Lebanese sovereignty over them are fully settled.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said this is an issue for Syria and Lebanon to work out, not something she can resolve. Israeli officials have made similar statements. As she returned from the Middle East, Secretary Rice played down differences over diplomatic next steps. She insisted there's a growing consensus on a three-part settlement that includes a cease-fire, a political agreement, and the authorization for an international force. Those are all things she hopes to achieve in a U.N. Security Council resolution this week.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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