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Talks for International Force in Lebanon Stall in U.N.

August 2, 2006 at 6:10 PM EST


MARGARET WARNER: As fighting between Israeli troops and Hezbollah intensified this week, so did diplomatic efforts to find a way to end the fighting at the United Nations and in capitals around the globe. But today, three weeks into the conflict, there’s still no agreement on how to end it.

In Brussels yesterday, the 25 foreign ministers of the European Union countries endorsed a resolution calling for “an immediate cessation of hostilities, to be followed by a sustainable cease-fire.” The language was milder than that originally sought by France and some others, who wanted an immediate, official cease-fire.

British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett spoke afterwards.

MARGARET BECKETT, Foreign Secretary, United Kingdom: There was a call all the way through for the European Union to be united and effective in getting action to stop the hostilities and to prevent more deaths in the Middle East.

URSULA PLASSNIK, Foreign Minister, Austria: We have to work for stopping the bloodshed. Dead children do not give security for anybody. And we have to return to a political process and do what we can to contribute to such a return. It cannot be left to those who are exercising violence to the attacks of rockets on one hand and to the bombs on the other side.

MARGARET WARNER: Moderate Arab governments are involved, as well. The Jordanian and Egyptian foreign ministers were in Beirut today, calling for an immediate cease-fire.

AHMED ABOUL GHEIT, Foreign Minister, Egypt (through translator): We are trying to achieve an immediate cease-fire and will work with the United Nations, the Security Council, and all the effective powers, the European Union, the United States, Russia and China.

MARGARET WARNER: The U.N. Security Council is where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is now putting Washington’s major focus. The U.S. is negotiating with the French and other members on a proposed solution that would combine a cease-fire with longer-term measures insisted upon by the Bush administration. They include a process to disarm Hezbollah and an international force with teeth in southern Lebanon along the Israeli border.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton spoke about the ongoing negotiations outside the Security Council chamber this morning.

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations: What we’re talking about now is something that will certainly set out the framework of the larger political foundation for a sustainable cease-fire, as we’ve said repeatedly.

I don’t think that a cease-fire without more is sufficient to lead to a fundamental change in the situation in the region. But the precise way that this will be done, how many resolutions would be involved, remains to be seen, in part because things are changing on the ground, as well.

MARGARET WARNER: Late today at the U.N., a scheduled meeting of potential contributors to an international force was postponed for a second time. France, which is often mentioned as a leader of any such force, said it was pointless to start planning for it before there’s a political deal to end the conflict.

Hammering out the differences

Mark Malloch Brown
Deputy Secretary-General, UN
The U.S. has always felt you've got to have a full cease-fire agreement first if you're to persuade Israel particularly to stop fighting.

MARGARET WARNER: And joining me now for an update on where the diplomatic effort stands is Deputy U.N. Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown.

And, Mark Malloch Brown, welcome. Thanks for being with us.

MARK MALLOCH BROWN, United Nations Deputy Secretary General: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: So tell us what the state of play is this evening on efforts to come up with a U.N. solution to this crisis.

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Well, definitely the diplomatic momentum has rapidly increased in the last couple of days, and I think this is very much Condi Rice coming back from the region and bringing some ideas to the U.N. through her team, but most critically reaching out to the French and to others to make sure that this isn't just an American proposal, but a joint proposal with France, because if France is expected to lead any peacekeeping force down the road, then it's critical that it and other moderate Arab countries are part of the negotiation at this stage.

And I think that's a major step forward, which I think will deliver results.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, the French, in fact, circulated a draft resolution on Sunday. And looking at it, it seems to include language about all the elements that Condoleezza Rice talks about. How far apart are the U.S. and France, and what's the big stumbling block?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Well, there are several issues still difficult to resolve. The first is whether you just stop fighting, demand a stop to the fighting first, and do the rest of the diplomacy and politics afterwards.

The U.S. has always felt you've got to have a full cease-fire agreement first if you're to persuade Israel particularly to stop fighting. France and others have felt that negotiating such an agreement is too complicated, so start with stop the fighting.

The compromise between that is to stop the fighting, but to combine in that first resolution along with that provision, arrange the political principles which would shape a later full cease-fire and settlement. So it's kind of trying to bridge the issue.

The second big point which has to be addressed is: What is the function of an enhanced international military force in southern Lebanon? Is it to police a political agreement, where Hezbollah has voluntarily disarmed as a result of a political agreement, or is it somehow to force Hezbollah disarmament?

And, you know, the French are very much for the first option as the only practical way around which you could get international troops committed and, indeed, practically the only way to get disarmament. The U.S. is more the robust end of the scale, believing that Hezbollah will only disarm in the face of force. So, again, they've got to find a bridging way across that.

Bringing both sides to the table

Margaret Warner

MARGARET WARNER: So both of these seem to be, to some degree, questioning of sequencing or timing.

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Well, they are, except the second particularly is key, because, you know, if you are a troop-contributing country, if you're sending your troops in to keep the peace between two parties who have politically arrived at an agreement with each other, that's one thing.

If it's instead to come in to disarm Hezbollah, who has not been disarmed by the military campaign so far or was not disarmed during Israel's years of occupation in southern Lebanon, that is a very different proposition and one that I suspect most countries would shy away from.

So getting it right, getting something that persuades Israel that Hezbollah indeed is going to be disarmed and kept that way, and yet is a reasonable and plausible challenge for an international force to take on, and not an impossible one and a very bloody one, is more than just nuances of sequence. It really requires some tough discussion.

MARGARET WARNER: So, now, in these negotiations at the U.N., who is speaking for, who can, quote, "deliver the combatants," Israel and Hezbollah, who would have to agree to any such arrangement?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Well, the U.S. has obviously listened extremely carefully to Israel's point of view and is bringing, if you like, Israel's red lines to this discussion. The Lebanese government has two Hezbollah cabinet members in it, and all of us have been talking to that government.

But, you know, additionally we have informal ways of reaching out to Hezbollah, by other members of the council, the U.N. ourselves. So I think we have a pretty clear idea of where the issues are here.

And now the worry for us is that the longer the fighting goes on, both sides are getting more intransigent. This is a very odd war where both sides think they're winning, so neither side is particularly quick to sue for peace in this, and that's a real issue for negotiators at this stage.

Outrage towards the United Nations

Mark Malloch Brown
Deputy Secretary-General, UN
But the world's right: We've so far failed on the big political issue at the heart of this. We've not achieved an end to the fighting, let alone a cease-fire or peace agreement.

MARGARET WARNER: On Sunday after the bombing in Qana, when so many civilians were killed, as you well know, a crowd in Beirut stormed your office in Beirut and trashed the place in frustration and anger over the apparent impotence of the U.N. How do you explain to the citizens of the world that now we're beginning the fourth week of this conflict, with 600 or 700 dead, that the United Nations has really been unable to do really anything to curb it?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Well, look, it wasn't just our office in Beirut. Our office in Gaza was also assaulted by a crowd. Our offices in Cairo and Damascus had big demonstrations outside them. The Arab world is exasperated and despairing of the international community, and the U.N. personifies that to them.

I think, you know, the U.N. is doing a huge amount on the humanitarian side now. We do have convoys moving down into the south. We've mounted a major relief effort. We're engaged in the politics. Our UNIFIL force, which is already in southern Lebanon, even at risk to and loss of their own lives, have been doing all they can to keep humanitarian access to affected groups.

But the world's right: We've so far failed on the big political issue at the heart of this. We've not achieved an end to the fighting, let alone a cease-fire or peace agreement.

And here, of course, we are no better than our member countries who are the actors to this, and that's the frustration for the secretary general and myself and others that, you know, we've been calling for a cessation of hostilities since day one of this, but the Security Council, which properly represents the very different interests of the nations in it, couldn't bring itself even on Sunday after Qana to deliver itself of a clear, unequivocal demand that the fighting stop.

And I think that has cost us dearly in the region. We hope that's now changing, that the Security Council is catching up with the state of world despair about this crisis and Arab and Israeli desire for a solution to it.

MARGARET WARNER: So what do you see as a compromise that would square this circle? Ambassador Bolton was asked about the possibility, for instance, of two resolutions; is that where this is headed?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: It is. That is very much now the way that the American and French negotiators are working on this, is two resolutions, which is always, again, where we have thought this would go, which is the first resolution is stop the fighting, and here are some political principles to work on.

The second resolution deals with the issues of a force and a longer-term border security or withdrawal, all the big things that need to be tackled over time, including drawing borders, which is a key part of this.

But the fact is, doing it in at least two resolutions, if not more, creates much more manageable, bite-sized ways of moving the diplomacy forward and allowing you to stop the fighting at the start, rather than waiting until the end of a torturous, complex, long diplomatic process.

Stern words for the U.K. and U.S.

MARGARET WARNER: Finally, you were involved in a bit of a dust-up today over something you said in the Financial Times. You were quoted today as saying that, whatever resolution comes out, it should not be the U.S. and Britain co-authoring it or, as you described them, "the team that led on Iraq." The State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, responded immediately at the briefing today, calling your comments "misguided and misplaced." Were they?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: I don't think so, and I don't think the U.S. has anything to object to in the comments. I was really, in fact, in the interview calling for the U.S. to reach out to France and others to make sure it was demonstrating a broad, multilateral coalition. And within a single news cycle of my calling for that, it was doing it. So I think, you know, I may be prophetic, but I wasn't critical.

I think the U.K. has a little bit more reason to be cross with me, because I was telling my own countrymen, you know, step aside a bit. Make room for France and some moderate Arab governments, like Jordan and Egypt, to be out front with the U.S. on this.

The U.K. has an enormously important role, but don't crowd out these others, because, you know, the U.K. and the U.S., they finish each other's sentences. They're just natural diplomatic partners who've been working through crises throughout the last century, two world wars and much more. And it's been a formidable alliance.

So they're sometimes a little tone deaf to the fact that, on something like this, you have to bring others in and not make it look like that old axis, and particularly in this region, so shortly after Iraq, whose ghosts are still very much alive.

MARGARET WARNER: Sean McCormack also, though -- he was referring to other comments you've made. And you've had a little tension with Ambassador Bolton over earlier comments you've made about the Bush administration.

He said he saw a troubling pattern of a high official of the U.N. who seems to be making it his business to criticize member states. Now, you came a little close to that even tonight in our conversation. Do you think there's something or anything inappropriate about you, in your role as deputy secretary general, in doing that?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Well, you know, I haven't come that close tonight, but I will say this: I think there are two philosophies about what senior U.N. officials at the political level of the organization should do. One is that they mild, gentle ciphers for the often very contradictory opinions of our 191 members states.

The other is that they have a public diplomacy role, as well as a private one, to try and shape policy initiatives, move through obstacles, and get solutions to problems, and to all of that with the full respect for the charter and the principles and vision of our organization.

So I plead guilty to being an activist deputy secretary general working for an activist secretary general who thinks we have to jump in and try and make a difference. And usually we try to do it in ways which bring people together. Every now and again, we have to use a sharp elbow, but I hope those who are the victims of it understand it well.

And in the case of the speech you referred to, it was not an attack on the Bush administration or anything else. It was a mild call to the U.S. for, after all the decades we've worked together, couldn't the U.S., through many presidents, just embrace us a bit more and demonstrate to the American public what a vital tool and partner we are to U.S. policy?

And, frankly, we need the U.S. much more than they need us. We need U.S. leadership and support, and that was what that speech was about.

MARGARET WARNER: Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown, thank you.