By Ewen MacAskill, Oliver Burkeman
and Julian Borger
August 11, 2006
Russia dramatically intervened in the struggle to reach a UN deal on Lebanon last night, tabling a proposal for a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire on the grounds the crisis was too desperate to wait on more wrangling between the US and France. "This diplomatic activity is not being conducted in a quiet academic environment," Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said in New York. "War is raging in Lebanon, and the humanitarian situation is getting catastrophic."
He said that his draft resolution had the support of Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, and he hoped it would "focus minds" and "energise politicians and diplomats". Mr Churkin said he wanted a vote on it today. The unexpected move broke an emerging consensus on the security council, and came amid signs that a compromise hammered out by the US and France during the day yesterday had been rejected by the Lebanese government, which includes representatives of Hizbullah.
The latest draft resolution calls for a phased Israeli withdrawal, to be replaced by a 15,000-strong Lebanese army force, supported by the existing 2,000-strong UN force, Unifil, and possibly advance elements of a new international force; it might include troops from Spain, Germany, Italy and Austria, according to an Israeli TV report. But diplomats said Lebanon objected to the idea the foreign forces would be granted the right to use force, under chapter 7 of the UN charter, rather than simply act as peacekeepers. Israel had refused to withdraw troops unless they were replaced by a strong international force.
Russia's plan and Lebanon's objection threatened to create an awkward situation for Margaret Beckett, the foreign secretary, who broke off her holiday in France and was due to arrive in New York late last night for what she had hoped would be the final round of negotiations. Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, was also prepared to come, her spokesman said. An American diplomat refused to comment on the Russian proposal, saying that negotiators were "working on" the question of enabling troops to use force.
The day had begun optimistically, and the permanent five members of the UN security council - the US, Britain, France, Russia and China - had been due to meet this afternoon to agree the draft ceasefire resolution. John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, had said it was "entirely possible" that the draft resolution would be finalised to allow a vote by all 15 members of the security council today. "We expect, from one moment to the next, an accord in New York," said the French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy.
Lebanon and Hizbullah had refused to accept a ceasefire until there was a timetable for an Israeli withdrawal. Israel had refused to pull out until an international force moved into south Lebanon, saying the Lebanese army alone was not capable of monitoring Hizbullah to ensure that it fired no more rockets.
Impetus was provided by a threat by the French president, Jacques Chirac, on Wednesday to table an independent draft resolution, a prospect that appalled Washington.
The Israeli government indicated yesterday it was prepared to wait at least until the weekend before launching the full-scale invasion of southern Lebanon it approved on Wednesday. "There are diplomatic considerations," Rafi Eitan, a cabinet minister, said yesterday. "There is still a chance that an international force will arrive in the area. We have no interest in being in south Lebanon. We have an interest in peace on our borders."
Tony Blair spoke to Mr Chirac yesterday as part of the drive to finalise the deal.
More Information on Lebanon
More Information on UN Involvement in Israel and Palestine
More Information on Israel, Palestine, and the Occupied Territories
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