UNITED NATIONS, AP – The United States and France have “come a long way” in negotiating a Security Council resolution that calls for an immediate end to Middle East hostilities, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said, as diplomats promised a deal on a resolution in days.
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed support Thursday for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon 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 stalemate over how to end the fighting.
On CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Rice said the U.S. is moving “toward being able to do this in phases that will permit first an end or a stoppage in the hostilities and based on the establishment of some very important principles for how we move forward.”
Almost since the outbreak of the fighting on July 12, the Bush administration has insisted that a cease-fire and steps aimed at creating a long-term peace be worked out simultaneously. These included establishing an international peacekeeping force and requiring the disarmament of the Hezbollah militant group.
Moving closer to the position that France and other European countries are taking, Rice predicted that a U.N. Security Council resolution would be approved within days that would include a cease-fire and describe principles for a lasting peace.
“We’re certainly getting close,” she said. “We’re working with the French very closely. We’re working with others.”
Still, it was difficult to say just how much Rice’s comments indicated a softening of the American position — or just a rephrasing of it.
Rice’s comments came after France, which has led efforts for a diplomatic solution and could lead an international force to help stabilize southern Lebanon, circulated a revised draft of the resolution to all council members Wednesday night.
It would be the first of two resolutions aimed at achieving a permanent cease-fire and long-term solution to the conflict.
France’s U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere had sounded a note of pessimism early Thursday, but after a 3 1/2-hour U.S.-French meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss the draft, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said the two sides had “come a long way.”
“What we’ve tried to do is reach agreement on as much as possible but … now Washington and Paris have to take a look,” he said. “We thought we made a good bit of progress and we’ll see overnight.”
The French mission to the U.N. refused to comment on the latest discussions.
Other officials including British Prime Minister Tony Blair said they hoped for a deal within days — though they backed off their original prediction of having it done by the end of the week. Blair echoed Rice when he said he hoped a resolution would outline a framework to prevent a repetition of the conflict.
He said in London that this would be part of a two-phase plan that would be followed by negotiations on an international stabilization force and its mandate, which would require a second resolution.
Since fighting began, the U.N. Security Council has failed to take any action to stop it, primarily because of opposition from the United States, Israel’s closest ally.
In her comments to CNN, Rice said some steps would have to happen immediately, while others could take place “over a longer period of time in order not to have a return to the status quo ante and just a cease-fire that like so many cease-fires in the Middle East, falls apart practically the minute that it’s in place.”
Any deal will have to gain the acceptance of both Israel and Hezbollah, which could prove difficult.
Israel has said it will not halt its campaign against Hezbollah unless an international stabilization force is in place. Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s chief spokesman said Thursday the militia will not agree to a cease-fire until all Israeli troops leave Lebanon.
Israel also says it wants to continue fighting for up to two weeks to seriously diminish Hezbollah’s military capability.
France’s draft reiterates “the need to create the conditions for a permanent cease-fire and a lasting solution to the current crisis between Israel and Lebanon,” but it spells out these conditions in greater detail.
They include respecting Israel’s and Lebanon’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the boundary between the two countries, releasing the two Israeli soldiers whose capture sparked the fighting, and settling the issue of Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel. They also include disarming all militias in Lebanon and extending the government’s authority in the south, which is now controlled by Hezbollah.
A current U.N. force already in Lebanon would initially monitor implementation of the resolution, but a more robust international force would be deployed to support Lebanese forces in providing security and implementing a permanent cease-fire.