ROME (AP) — U.S., European and Arab officials holding crisis talks on Lebanon failed to agree Wednesday on an immediate plan to halt the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas.
Although officials called for an end to the violence, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said there cannot be a return to a “status quo” of political uncertainty and instability in Lebanon. She said any cease-fire must be “sustainable.”
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the solution to the Mideast crisis should involve Iran and Syria. He also called for the formation of a multinational force to help Lebanon assert its authority and implement U.N. resolutions that would disarm Hezbollah.
After listening to a dramatic appeal from Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora for them to stop the killing, the officials said they had agreed on the need to deploy an international force under the aegis of the United Nations in southern Lebanon.
“An international force in Lebanon should urgently be authorized under a U.N. mandate to support the Lebanese armed forces in providing a secure environment,” Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema said – but there was no mention of who would take part or any other details.
“Participants expressed their determination to work immediately to reach, with utmost urgency, a cease-fire that puts an end to the current violence and hostilities. The cease-fire must be lasting, permanent and sustainable,” D’Alema said.
He said many of the participants in the meeting appealed for an immediate and unconditional truce.
The United States and Britain opposed the push for a quick cease-fire, saying any truce should ensure that Hezbollah no longer is a threat to Israel and should ensure a durable peace.
Referring to the cease-fire, D’Alema said, “To obtain this objective, you must exercise pressure on all parties involved, directly and indirectly, on who can exercise influence on Hezbollah and on Israel.”
The foreign ministers and other senior officials from the 15 nations, as well as Annan and representatives from the European Union and the World Bank, agreed on a declaration expressing “deep concern” for the many civilian casualties in Lebanon, where government officials say hundreds have been killed.
The officials called on Israel to exercise “utmost restraint” and deplored the destruction of infrastructure in the country.
A new multinational force for southern Lebanon would be far tougher than the existing, three-decade-old UNIFIL operation which has lacked a mandate to prevent hostilities.
“What we agreed upon is that there should be an international force under a U.N. mandate that will have a strong and robust capability to help bring about peace, to help provide the ability for humanitarian efforts to go forward and to bring an end to the violence,” Rice told reporters.
There was no immediate response from Israel, which did not attend. Israeli officials have expressed support in principle for the deployment of an international force, recognizing that the weak Lebanese government could not likely subdue the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah without assistance.
Rice said the force’s mandate would be discussed “over the next … several days.” She added: “We also have asked that those meetings be held urgently so that force can be put together.”
“We all committed to dedicated and urgent action to try to bring about an end to violence that would be sustainable” and leave the Lebanese government in full control of its territory, Rice told reporters. She also pointed the finger at Iran for stoking the violence.
The foreign ministers and other senior officials from 15 nations, as well as Annan and representatives from the European Union and the World Bank, agreed on a declaration that expressed “deep concern” for the high number of civilian casualties in Lebanon, where government officials say hundreds of people have been killed.
They called on Israel to exercise “utmost restraint,” deplored the destruction of infrastructure in the country, and agreed on a donors’ conference to provide humanitarian aid.
Saniora said the violence has brought his country – still rebuilding from its 1975-90 civil war – “to its knees.”
He recognized that Israel’s offensive had been sparked by Hezbollah’s incursion across the “blue line” – the border recognized by the United Nations – two weeks ago when it killed eight soldiers and kidnapped two, but added that the resultant offensive was “disproportionate.”
The Western-leaning moderate also appealed to Israel to enter a peace process with all of its Arab neighbors – striking a markedly different tone from many previous Lebanese leaders.
In Brussels, European Union officials said a meeting of foreign ministers would be held Aug. 1 to discuss the violence.