Signs of Progress in the Fight for a Cease-Fire Diplomats at the United Nations seek to narrow the differences and craft a resolution to end fighting in southern Lebanon. The United States and France are working with all parties to come up with acceptable wording, including a call for a progressive Israeli withdrawal. A Friday vote is possible, but there is still a great deal of uncertainty.

Signs of Progress in the Fight for a Cease-Fire

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Negotiations for a cease-fire resolution to end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah have hit another snag at the United Nations. Late today, Russia said it will introduce another resolution in the UN Security Council, this one calling for a 72 hour humanitarian cease-fire in Lebanon. There's enormous pressure for the Security Council to hammer out a deal to help prevent anymore bloodshed in Lebanon.

NPR's Jackie Northam has been at the United Nations all day today. She joins us now. Jackie, what does Russia say about this proposal to the Security Council for a three day cease-fire?


Well, Russia's UN Ambassador, Vitali Churkin, said that Russia was introducing the resolution because it said the crisis in Lebanon is reaching what he called catastrophic proportions. And that it's simply just too urgent to wait until another cease-fire proposal, one that's being cosponsored by the French and the United States, could be hammered out.

Churkin made his comments after yet another meeting of the UN's permanent five in which simply no agreement could be reached on the American/French proposal. And Churkin said you just can't wait anymore. People in Lebanon need help. He was thoroughly pessimistic about the way that these negotiations were going, primarily between France and the U.S.

NORRIS: What's been the reaction to the Russian proposal?

NORTHAM: Well, US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton came out shortly afterwards and he made it clear that he was less than pleased that Russia had entered into the fray with its own resolution. Bolton said we're not playing games here. This is very serious business.

You know, Bolton expressed hope that the US and France can still sort out some of the differences between them as far as trying to agree on their proposed cease-fire resolution. And, Michele, oddly enough, the sticking point now seems to be with the Lebanese. And it has to do with one provision that deals with talks about beefing up a UN peacekeeping force called UNIFIL that's already in southern Lebanon.

Now, under an amendment proposed by the French that came up today, this UNIFIL, this UN contingent would be an enforcement operation. In other words, it would be allowed to take the offensive and not just a defensive stand. And the French would be a big part of that as well. But the Lebanese have objected, objected strongly, to it. And now this seems to be a real sticking point in the negotiations.

NORRIS: So how does all this change the diplomatic landscape there at the UN?

NORTHAM: Well, you know, it's added another wrinkle to an already very wrinkled scenario, if you like. At the same time, everybody seems to express hope that we're going to get a vote on this resolution tomorrow. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due in here tomorrow. Britain sent over its foreign secretary, Elizabeth Beckett.

There's still hope here, but, you know, at the same time, there's a lot of very sensitive issues going on here and any one of them could really be a deal breaker.

NORRIS: And Jackie, the question that comes up every time we talk about this, are we expecting a vote soon?

NORTHAM: Well, you know, it could be tomorrow. There's people expressing hope for that. It could be Saturday. We simply don't know. In some ways, we feel like we're so close. And in other ways, we feel like we're so far away.

NORRIS: Thank you, Jackie.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: Jackie Northam speaking to us from New York.

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