UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The top U.N. envoy on Lebanon-Syria issues said that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called a high-level international conference next week to try to reach agreement on the political underpinnings of a ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia.
The conference in Rome on Wednesday will bring together key players from the Mideast and the international community that have been involved in rebuilding Lebanon after its long civil war, Terje Roed-Larsen said in an interview Friday.
“There is now a feeling of emergency, but also a state of energizing the diplomatic process in order to make these underpinnings as robust as possible,” he said.
Roed-Larsen is part of a three-member U.N. team that just returned from the region and briefed Rice Friday morning before she returned to Washington and announced that she would meet with “the Lebanon core group” in Rome on a Mideast trip that will also take her to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The group comprises countries and organizations that want to help Lebanon’s reconstruction and economic, political and social reforms. Its members are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the World Bank, the European Union, France, Russia, Britain, the United States and Italy.
The group met at the ministerial level for the first time in the margins of the U.N. General Assembly’s ministerial meeting last September. Ever since, they have met at ambassadorial level in Lebanon.
Rice said the core group’s members “form a key contact group that can help the Lebanese government to address the political, economic and security challenges that it faces.” She said she expects Lebanon to send a delegation to the Rome meeting.
Roed-Larsen, who will be accompanying Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the meeting in Rome on Wednesday, said he expects foreign ministers to attend. “There is now a broad international agreement that in order to reach a cease-fire you have to produce the necessary underpinnings,” he said. “Sadly, it’s unrealistic to reach a cease-fire simply though calls for a cease-fire. You have to produce the necessary tools in order to get the parties to reach a cessation of hostilities.”
Roed-Larsen said he believes “this is precisely now the focus of the U.S. administration” and it was also the focus of a day-long open meeting Friday of the U.N. Security Council on the escalating conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.
“This is why secretary Rice has called for an international conference in Rome with some of the key players in the region and the international community in order to discuss and hopefully reach an agreement on what such political underpinnings of a cease-fire might be,” he said.
Roed-Larsen said Annan listed some of the elements in a briefing to the council on Thursday. The secretary-general told the council that the U.N. mission he sent to the Middle East suggested elements which he believes must form the political basis of any lasting cease-fire, and on which they have consulted the leaders of Lebanon and Israel.
The elements include the handover and repatriation of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah on July 12 which triggered the fighting and an expanded peacekeeping force on the Lebanese side of the U.N.-drawn boundary with Israel known as the Blue Line to stabilize the situation. The Lebanese government must also extend its control over southern Lebanon, which is now largely in the hands of Hezbollah, and disarm the militia, as called for in a September 2004 Security Council resolution, Annan said.