UNITED NATIONS,AP – The United States said it is close to a deal with France on a resolution demanding an end to more than three weeks of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants but that some issues still need to be resolved.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton met with his French counterpart, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, on Friday to try to bridge the remaining differences. French and U.S. officials were expected to meet again Saturday.
With international pressure for an end to hostilities intensifying, the United States said it expects the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution early next week.
“We are very close to a final draft with the French on a text,” U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.
Bolton and de La Sabliere have refused to say what the remaining differences are, but Security Council diplomats said one crucial problem was the timing of a halt to the fighting and the deployment of an international force.
France, reflecting wide international opinion, including that of its former colony Lebanon, wants an immediate end to the violence. The United States, Israel’s closest ally, does not want a halt without the immediate implementation of other steps, including the deployment of peacekeepers.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations, said late Friday that negotiations had gone so well the draft might be ready to circulate to the rest of the Security Council over the weekend.
Under the most optimistic scenario, a vote could come as early as Tuesday.
If agreement on a resolution appears likely, there is a possibility that foreign ministers of the 15 council nations may fly to New York for a meeting.
Rice expressed support Thursday for an immediate halt to the fighting as the first phase in ending the conflict. It was the most concrete signal yet that the U.S. may be willing to compromise on the diplomatic stalemate.
In an interview with MSNBC on Friday, Rice said “we are moving, I think pretty effectively now, with the French and with others in the United Nations, toward a cessation of hostilities … on the basis of a kind of political framework that would prevent this return to the status quo ante.”
“We then have to move in a second phase to a security force, and we do have to get to a sustainable and permanent cease-fire. This is a process that we will be beginning with the resolution that we hope will be ready, and I believe will be ready, within days,” she said.
She said if anyone were to disarm Hezbollah, it would be the Lebanese, not an international force.
Some council members were frustrated with the pace of negotiations.
“We need an urgent cease-fire,” Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said. “We’re working very hard for it.”
Any deal will have to gain the acceptance of both Israel and Hezbollah, which could prove difficult, though the U.S. and France are expected to use their influence.
Israel has said it wants to continue fighting for up to two weeks to seriously diminish Hezbollah’s military capability and will not halt its campaign unless an international stabilization force is in place. Hezbollah’s chief spokesman said the militia will not agree to a cease-fire until all Israeli troops leave Lebanon.