Jacques Chirac, the French president, on Wednesday raised the prospect of a renewed diplomatic confrontation with the US over Lebanon, saying Paris was prepared to introduce its own ceasefire plan to the United Nations Security Council if efforts to forge agreement with Washington failed.
“If we don’t manage it, there will obviously be a debate in the Security Council and everyone will present their position clearly, including, of course, France with its own resolution,” he said.
Mr Chirac’s remarks in Toulon reflected growing frustration with the diplomatic deadlock at the UN, centred on an initial draft ceasefire resolution agreed by France and the US at the weekend. Following objections from Lebanon and the Arab League, France is now pushing for changes aimed at accommodating Arab concerns, which focused on the failure of the US-French plan to demand the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon.
Diplomats say the US remains opposed to placing such a demand on Israel.
“It does seem that there is an American reservation about adopting this draft,” Mr Chirac said. “I can’t imagine that there would be no solution because that would mean the most immoral result – that we accept the current situation and that we abandon an immediate ceasefire.”
France and the US are at odds in particular over the timing of the deployment of an international force and Israel’s withdrawal – reflecting the conflicting views on the ground of Israel and Lebanon and its Arab allies.
Lebanon wants the UN to call for an immediate Israeli withdrawal after the ceasefire, with the Lebanese army, supported by an enhanced version of the existing Unifil peacekeeping force, taking its place.
Israel, backed by the US, says it will not withdraw its troops until a credible international force begins to deploy in its place, to prevent the resurgence of Hizbollah forces.
The initial US-French draft calls for a second resolution that would create a framework for a separation of forces, the deployment of an international force and an eventual Israeli withdrawal.
Diplomats at the UN said there was a desire to postpone discussions on the make-up of the proposed force to be deployed in the area until a ceasefire was in place. Lebanon is opposed to deployment of an international force that is not under direct UN command.
As talks continued at the UN yesterday, the US sent David Welch, assistant secretary of state, to Beirut, where he met Fouad Siniora, Lebanon’s prime minister, and Nabih Berri, the moderate Shia leader who is speaker of parliament.
Lebanese officials were gloomy about the prospect of any breakthrough after the talks. Aref Elabed, spokesman for Mr Siniora, said there had been no progress yet towards meeting Beirut’s demands for the inclusion of an Israeli troop withdrawal in the draft UN resolution. “They are in the same place without any change,” he said. “It will be a long and difficult negotiation.”
UN envoys say that neither the US nor France have sought to involve Syria or Iran, Hizbollah’s main backers, in the discussions.