Wednesday, July 26, 2006

US Thwarts Middle East Cease-Fire

The Washington Post
Nations Fail to Reach Agreement on Middle East Cease-Fire
By Robin Wright and Fred Barbash
The Washington Post

Wednesday 26 July 2006

Rome - As the fighting and bombing intensified in Lebanon and Israel, an urgently convened, high-level international conference in Rome concluded in open disagreement, failing to reach accord on a plan to bring a halt to the strife.

A formal statement from the 18 nations agreed on the need for humanitarian assistance and for an eventual international force to be deployed in Lebanon.

But the participating foreign ministers could not agree on the timing of a cease-fire, with the United States standing by its position that a settlement be in place for an "enduring" peace prior to a cessation of hostilities.

And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan publicly disagreed at a grim-faced news conference on whether Iran and Syria should be involved in talks, with Annan saying they should, and Rice denouncing the two nations for their role in the region.

After listening to the news conference, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora expressed despair. Saying his country was being "cut to pieces" by Israel, Siniora said: "We really wanted, on the one hand, to really ask the participants to provide humanitarian relief assistance, which is important, and to provide all other assistance. . . . But more, we wanted a cease-fire, an immediate cease-fire."

U.S. officials briefing after the meeting played down disagreements. But others did not. Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said that "we agreed upon what we could agree upon, but that does not change the fact that the European Union has called for an immediate cessation of hostilities" while the United States has not.

A senior U.S. official traveling with Rice said after the news conference that the United States "would take strong issue that there is isolation or there's us on one side and everyone else on the other. What we're seeing here is everyone wanting to do something lasting for Lebanon. It was never the purpose of this meeting to achieve a cease-fire. That was never the expectation going into this thing ...."

**seems everyone disagrees, and that a cease-fire was the goal, just not the US goal**

In Rome, Rice hoped to refine ideas for the proposed international force with European and Arab allies as well as discuss reconstruction aid for Lebanon. The goal was to move quickly after the hostilities to strengthen the beleaguered government of Siniora and to draw international support for the prospect of rebuilding Beirut, a city once called the Paris of the Middle East.

Reading a statement from the participants, Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said: "The Rome conference participants expressed their determination to work immediately to reach, with the utmost urgency, a cease-fire that put an end to the current violence and hostilities." But, in a reflection of the U.S. position, he added that "the cease-fire must be lasting, permanent and sustainable."

The disagreements in Rome revolve around what is being called the "sequencing" of steps toward a cessation of hostilities.

Arab demands have focused on first achieving an immediate cease-fire, before considering such other measures as arrangements to disarm Hezbollah and the release of two Israeli soldiers taken captive by Hezbollah on July 12 in an incident that sparked the crisis. The Bush administration has backed Israel's campaign to cripple the Shiite militia, which has fired more than 1,000 rockets into Israel, and the United States and Israel are demanding the immediate release of the Israeli soldiers.

"I have made very clear that I seek urgently to get an end to these hostilities, an end to this violence. We all want this urgently," Rice said in the news conference. But, she added: "We have to be effective. It means that we have to have a plan that will actually create conditions in which we can have a cease-fire that will be sustainable. We're going to work very, very hard to do precisely that. I think many of the elements in this statement show the way forward to getting an end to the hostilities, getting an end to the violence."

Annan called for working "with the countries of the region to find a solution," saying pointedly "that should also involve Iran and Syria."
He made a similar statement before the conference opened Wednesday.

As he spoke, reporters shifted their focus to Rice, standing on the podium with Annan and the others. She smiled briefly, but said later that she was "glad that the secretary general is going to use his good offices in whatever way that he can to try and gain an understanding from other states that they have responsibilities, too. Syria has responsibilities [under United Nations resolutions] which it in fact has not exercised, and we ask that they do. And we are also deeply concerned, as we have said, about the role of Iran."

Fred Barbash reported from Washington.

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