Thursday, 24th August , 2006 , 13:01 [pm] | International
Europe intensifies Lebanon talks
Diplomatic efforts are being stepped up in Europe as countries try to agree on their contributions to an expanded peacekeeping force in Lebanon.
Finland’s foreign minister – whose country holds the EU presidency – is to visit to Paris and Berlin, and Israel’s foreign minister is due in Rome.
European leaders are under pressure to firm up proposals for the force ahead of a meeting with Kofi Annan on Friday.
Syria says it would consider UN troops in its border area a hostile move.
Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said his Syrian counterpart had told him they would “close their borders for all traffic in the event that UN troops are deployed”.
Israel has indicated it will not lift the air and sea blockade on Lebanon until international peacekeepers take up positions along the border.
Mr Tuomioja will discuss the EU’s contribution to a planned expanded UN force of 15,000 in talks with his opposite numbers in both Germany and Paris.
He told the BBC more would be known on Friday, but “in total we would hope that of the 15,000 almost a half would come from EU member states”.
The issue was discussed by EU ambassadors and security officials on Wednesday, and will be considered at an extraordinary meeting of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly on Thursday.
The flurry of talks comes ahead of a special meeting of EU foreign ministers with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in Brussels on Friday.
The UN has been disappointed by the response of European nations, which in turn have expressed concern about the force’s mandate, particularly on the issue of disarming Hezbollah.
Mr Annan’s message to EU ministers will be two-fold, his spokesman Edward Mortimer told the BBC.
He will seek to “reassure” potential contributors that the force is not being sent “to disarm Hezbollah by itself or against the will of the Lebanese people,” Mr Mortimer said.
“It is being sent to work with the Lebanese armed forces and in support of the Lebanese government,” he added.
Secondly, Mr Annan will “emphasise the urgency. There is a political solution attainable there. Without the force on the ground the political solution will probably not be attainable”.
This view was expressed by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who said after talks in Paris on Wednesday that time was running out for the UN ceasefire resolution to be applied.
“We are now in the most sensitive and explosive position,” said Ms Livni, who is due to meet her Italian counterpart Massimo D’Alema on Thursday.
The truce, now in its 11th day, has already been tested by a number of skirmishes and an Israeli commando raid deep inside Lebanon.
Political tensions have risen with the possible deployment of UN peacekeeping troops in the Lebanese-Syria border area.
Israel accuses Syria of supplying arms to Hezbollah across the border, including the rockets which were used to attack Israel throughout the month-long conflict.
President Bashar al-Assad told Arab TV such a deployment would be “an infringement on Lebanese sovereignty and a hostile position.”
In response Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said he respected Mr Assad’s opinion “but Lebanon acts with all means at her disposition to preserve her sovereignty, her independence and her interests”.