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France Agrees to Lead U.N. Peace Force in Lebanon

August 16, 2006 at 6:10 PM EST
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JIM LEHRER: Maintaining the new peace in Lebanon, as seen by Mark Malloch Brown. He’s the deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, and he joins us now from the U.N. in New York.

Mr. Deputy Secretary-General, welcome.

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

JIM LEHRER: In general, what is the condition of the cease-fire tonight?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Pretty good. I mean, so far we’ve had pretty few incidents, and our UNIFIL soldiers, along with cooperation from both Israel and Lebanon, have been able to diffuse the incidents that have occurred until now. So it’s holding, but we can’t take it for granted, which is why we need to move so quickly to put in place additional troops.

JIM LEHRER: Well, today, for instance, the Lebanese cabinet made that decision to send in 15,000 troops beginning tomorrow. Is that a positive development?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Very positive. I mean, it’s been one of the big surprises that Lebanon has been able to agree to do that and that Prime Minister Siniora has successfully pushed it, because it’s really changed the whole equation in southern Lebanon. Lebanese sovereignty will have essentially been restored to the south by this deployment, and it makes our role as the U.N. force easier because we’ll be working with a Lebanese partner.

Deploying the troops

Mark Malloch Brown
United Nations
Lebanese troops will move to where Israeli troops were, but U.N. troops will also deploy and will deploy into sectors side by side, if you like, so that it will be a combined, interlinked force of the Lebanese army, together with UNIFIL troops[.]

JIM LEHRER: Where will these Lebanese troops actually go? Will they go to areas now occupied by Israel, Israel will leave, Lebanon's troops will come in? Or how is it going to work?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Well, it will work with a sort of mix. Yes, Lebanese troops will move to where Israeli troops were, but U.N. troops will also deploy and will deploy into sectors side by side, if you like, so that it will be a combined, interlinked force of the Lebanese army, together with UNIFIL troops, that will replace the Israelis as they withdraw, but also secure the area back up to the Litani River, much of which the Israelis are not presently in.

JIM LEHRER: So the Lebanese troops are not going to go in and confront anybody, right? In other words, if Israel is still in a particular area, are the Lebanese troops empowered to go in and say, "OK, Israel get out of here, we're ready to take over"?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: No, we've been having meetings between the generals on the both sides. The first one was on Monday, and then one today, Wednesday, to agree very specific, choreographed sequence of specific Israeli partial withdrawals, Lebanese and U.N. deployments, all of it going in a careful sequence so that there are no confrontations of the kind your question implied.

JIM LEHRER: But the U.N. force, the new -- you have 2,000 troops there now, correct?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Yes.

JIM LEHRER: All right. So you want to bring in 13,000 more. It's going to be a while before those 13,000 come, correct?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Yes, it will take time to get up to the full number, but we do hope that the first 3,500 will -- we can get them in very quickly, within about a week or so.

JIM LEHRER: Within about a week. But the Lebanese troops will have already deployed somewhat by the time your folks, new troops get there, correct?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Well, a key point is our new troops, because our 2,000 existing troops have been there and have stayed in all their posts throughout this fighting. So, you know, in a sense, you know, we've got the local knowledge already, and so the Lebanese will be working with us, and we'll quickly supplement our force in the coming days.

Disengaging Israel and Hezbollah

Mark Malloch Brown
United Nations
Well, it's very clear in the Security Council resolution, which is governing all this, that the end of this process is that nobody will be carrying arms south of the Litani other than the Lebanese army and the U.N. forces.

JIM LEHRER: Now, the Hezbollah. The Lebanese cabinet said the only arms authorized in these areas where Lebanese troops go are going to be Lebanese troops' arms. What does that say about Hezbollah and its arms?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Well, it's very clear in the Security Council resolution, which is governing all this, that the end of this process is that nobody will be carrying arms south of the Litani other than the Lebanese army and the U.N. forces. So we go through a series of steps to achieve that objective, and, you know, cessation of hostilities, disengagement of the two sides, followed by disarmament.

JIM LEHRER: Now, the meeting today at the U.N. with Secretary-General Annan and the Israeli foreign minister, she apparently said, "We want Hezbollah disarmed," did she not? She was very straight about that.

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Yes, and the end of this process is they will be disarmed. But, you know, the fact is that one's got to look at this on a double track.

One is what we've been talking about, the deployment and peacekeepers to secure this area, but the second is what the resolution also calls for, which is the political track, where Hezbollah looks at disarmament and, indeed, the Lebanese government looks at disarmament as part of this longer-term political process.

Because, I mean, we've had so many experiences that you can't secure this border just through military patrolling alone. We have to, as the resolution requires, get a political deal in place, as well, under which Hezbollah, you know, voluntarily disarms, and then the role of the peacekeepers is to make sure -- is to police that disarmament and make sure that they honor it.

JIM LEHRER: What is this statement from the Lebanese government today to Hezbollah that, "We won't disarm you. You can keep your arms, but keep them off the streets"? What does that mean? Did I get that right?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Yes, I think it's going to need some exploration because, you know, the fact is the resolution and the Lebanese government has accepted it. And it had its own seven-point plan which involved disarmament south of the Litani. So we've really got to kind of work through the detail on this, because, you know, the expectation is that we're going to arrive at a point where this zone is arms-free.

France and 13,000 others

Mark Malloch Brown
United Nations
There has been lots of promises, but the goal tomorrow is to firm them up and make them real commitments and pledges with dates on them by which the troops promised and the equipment promised would arrive.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Now, the French are pretty much on board now as running this whole operation, right, at least the U.N. operation, is that correct?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Yes, I mean, I think that pretty much is the point. We have tomorrow a so-called troop contributors meeting, which I will chair, and we're very much expecting and hoping that France is going to not just express that willingness to lead but be able to offer the specifics, in terms of how many troops it can deploy, what kind of headquarters it can put in place to reinforce our current headquarters.

And that we think will then be the key to firming up the pledges from other Europeans, as well as Muslim countries who have indicated a willingness to join this force.

JIM LEHRER: Going into the meeting tomorrow, are you optimist that you're going to be able to get these 13,000 needed troops?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Well, you know, we're not there yet. There has been lots of promises, but the goal tomorrow is to firm them up and make them real commitments and pledges with dates on them by which the troops promised and the equipment promised would arrive.

JIM LEHRER: In an ideal world -- and I realize that's a term that could be debated -- but you said you want 3,500 of these new troops in there in a week. What within the ideal world would you want those, the full complement of 13,000, on the ground?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Well, you know, I don't know about an ideal world. You know, in an ideal world, the U.N. -- and I could only say this probably to your news audience, Jim, as I think the phones would ring off the hook if I said it to some other audiences here -- but in an ideal world, the U.N. would have its own troops available to deploy very quickly here, or in Darfur, or the other places around the world where they're needed.

In the un-ideal world in which we operate, where we have to borrow all our soldiers from member countries, many of those member countries have to go through a process of parliamentary approval, budget approval, all sorts of things, which mean that traditionally mobilizing and deploying a force takes many months.

We're cutting all the corners for this one because of the urgency, but, you know, frankly it will be a month or so -- and that's quite an emphasis on the "or so" -- before we probably get to the full 15,000.

A commitment towards peace

JIM LEHRER: What about Israel's interest in having only troops in that international force who are from countries that are not anti-Israel?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Well, I think we certainly don't want to put rabid enemies of Israel in the force whose neutrality is going to be in question, but I think it's enormously important for the legitimacy of the force, not just in Israel, but in Lebanon, as well -- because, after all, it will be on Lebanese territory -- that the force has a broadly Muslim-European character or, if you like, European-Muslim character.

And therefore there will be Muslim troops, probably not from the immediate neighborhood, but, you know, Indonesia has expressed a willingness to contribute, as has Turkey.

And I think those kinds of contributions are going to be vital, if this force is going to be seen not as some sort of intrusion or invasion or effort to sort of use force against Hezbollah, but it's seen as we want it to be seen, as a peacekeeping force. We need to preserve that genuinely international, multilateral character to its membership.

JIM LEHRER: I know this is a difficult situation, because you've got your meeting tomorrow and you've got an awful lot of things still to do, but is it your feeling right now that all of the major players, at least, want this thing to work?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: I think all of the major players want this next step to work, the deployment of the international force and the Lebanese army. I think there's much less universal political will and support for the complicated stage that follows, trying to get a political agreement which will genuinely underpin this and remove the root cause of the conflict itself.

JIM LEHRER: But to at least to maintain the peace, to keep the fighting from blowing up again, you think everybody's committed to that, at least the major players?

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: They're committed to it, although there is -- frankly, it's something that we've got to try and break tomorrow, which is a little bit of enthusiasm to deploy a force as long as it's somebody else's soldiers, not one's own, because there are risks in this mission.

UNIFIL has, you know, come under quite a lot of criticism for not being robust enough in its present form. But since it began in 1978, we've lost more than 250 soldiers of UNIFIL killed in combat incidents. So it was already dangerous and, under the new arrangement, it perhaps will be more dangerous. So, you know, there is a little bit of reservation on the part of some of the countries which we've got to overcome.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir. All right, Mr. Brown, thank you. Have a good meeting tomorrow.

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: And beyond.