Annan seeks unity on Mideast

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) — UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called together major powers on Tuesday in an effort to promote unity on the Middle East crisis and rescheduled a meeting of potential troop contributors for an international force.

Jean-Marie Guehenno, the UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, will chair a session on Thursday among nations who may contribute troops to a stabilisation force in southern Lebanon, the United Nations announced.

That meeting had originally been scheduled for Monday by Annan, who will be in Haiti and the Dominican Republic this week starting on Wednesday.

Annan emphasised the need for coordination at a breakfast with ambassadors from the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — the Security Council members with veto power.

A senior UN official said Annan was anxious not to see a split between the United States and France, mentioned as a leader of the force, as happened before the 2003 Iraq war.

France has distributed a draft UN resolution on elements for a sustainable ceasefire, which junior diplomats intend to discuss later on Tuesday. The United States is expected to present its own proposals soon.

But the French draft said the force should only be deployed after a truce and after Israel and Lebanon have “agreed in principle” on a framework for a permanent ceasefire. The United States would like the force to be deployed sooner.

Israeli attacks have killed more than 600 people in Lebanon, most of them civilians, in the past three weeks.

Hizbollah fighters have killed 51 Israelis.

Britain’s UN Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry told reporters Annan spoke of the necessity for unity in the council and said it should act quickly to establish a basis for action.

“We hope we can move forward to get a resolution under discussion in the council very quickly,” Jones Parry said.

“There’s a real difference of perception on the ground of what conditions are needed before a cessation of hostilities.” But he said he doubted there would be a foreign ministers meeting at the United Nations soon to adopt a resolution, although he said such a measure could be adopted before the fighting stopped.

Jones Parry said he foresaw an early truce or cessation of hostilities, based on an understanding between the parties and the deployment of an international force. He said at some stage “the framework for a longer-term solution” had to be put in place.

US Ambassador John Bolton told reporters after the breakfast, “we’re still discussing how to proceed.” A UN statement said Annan was “satisfied with the outcome of the discussions, which permitted clarification of the critical issues and discussions of timelines.”

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