Image: Lebanese soldiers
Marco Di Lauro  /  Getty Images
Lebanese soldiers and rescue teams load a coffin containing the body of a U.N. worker killed in Tyre, Lebanon, on Thursday. Several countries have offered to train and equip Lebanese forces to secure the southern border with Israel, but only after Israel and Hezbollah agree to a cease-fire.
updated 8/3/2006 8:47:12 PM ET 2006-08-04T00:47:12

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed support Thursday for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon as the first phase in ending the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, in the most concrete signal yet that the U.S. may be willing to compromise on the stalemate over how to end the fighting.

Moving closer to the position that France and other European countries are taking, Rice predicted that a U.N. Security Council resolution would be approved within days that would include a cease-fire and describe principles for a lasting peace.

On CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Rice said the U.S. is moving “towards being able to do this in phases that will permit first an end or a stoppage in the hostilities and based on the establishment on some very important principles for how we move forward,” according to a partial transcript of the show being aired Thursday night.

Almost since the outbreak of the fighting on July 12, the Bush administration has insisted that a cease-fire and steps aimed at creating a long-term peace be worked out simultaneously. These included establishing an international peacekeeping force and requiring the disarmament of the Hezbollah militant group.

“We need to end the hostilities in a way that points forward a direction for a sustainable peace,” Rice said.

Certainly getting close’
The measure that France and the U.S. were working on would be the first of two resolutions aimed at achieving a permanent cease-fire and a long-term solution to the conflict.

“We’re certainly getting close,” she said. “We’re working with the French very closely. We’re working with others.”

Asked if U.S. policy had shifted, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to comment.

The war, now in its fourth week, is taking a growing toll of Lebanese and Israeli civilians, as well as Hezbollah and Israeli fighters. Amid the intensifying bloodshed, calls for an immediate cease-fire have intensified.

Rice said the resolution would be “based on the establishment of some very important principles for how we move forward.”

Rice, Rumsfeld OK plan for Lebanese army
Earlier Thursday, the State Department said the United States plans to help train and equip the Lebanese army so it can take control of all of the nation’s territory when warfare between Israel and Hezbollah eases.

The program was approved by Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the program was to take effect “once we have conditions on the ground permitting.”

McCormack provided no details on what equipment the United States might provide, the training that would be conducted, how many U.S. personnel would be involved, or possible costs.

Last week, the State Department notified Congress it wanted to add $10 million to the $1.5 million it provides annually to the Lebanese military.

Other nations will help out, too, McCormack said Thursday, as American diplomats consulted with French and other officials on a U.N. resolution for a cease-fire in Lebanon.

“We feel pretty optimistic that there’s going to be something” worked out on a resolution at the end of the week or early next week, White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

‘A significant upgrade’
Gen. John Abizaid, who heads the U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday the Lebanese armed force “needs a significant upgrade of equipment and training capability that I believe the Western nations, particularly the United States, can assist with.”

Before the war, command officials visited the Lebanese armed forces for an assessment, Abizaid said, and “we saw that they needed some significant spare parts” and other help.

On prospects for ending the fighting, he said “it will never work for Lebanon if, over time, Hezbollah has a greater military capacity than the Lebanese armed forces.”

Abizaid also said he believes Lebanon can extend government control over the entire country if it gets sufficient help, including an international peacekeeping force with a clear mandate, cooperation from the Lebanese government and “robust rules of engagement.”

Asked what he meant by “robust rules of engagement,” Abizaid said the commander of the peacekeeping force must be able to use “all available means at his forces’ disposal. And I think, in the case of southern Lebanon, it’ll have to have capabilities that are just not minor, small arms, but would include all arms.”

Diplomatic resolution in the works
Rice, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and Assistant Secretary David Welch are working with other governments, mostly by telephone, to put together a resolution “that stands up,” McCormack said.

This would include disarming Hezbollah, already ordered by the Security Council in 2004, and establishing an international peacekeeping force to move into southern Lebanon.

Nations that would contribute troops are expected to meet next week at the U.N. A meeting was postponed on Monday and again on Thursday.

Rice plans to spend the weekend at President Bush’s ranch in Texas and will be “working the phones from Crawford,” McCormack said.

“There’s still some diplomacy that needs to be done,” he said,

Cease-fire — now or later?
Bush has said he does not envision having American ground troops in a peacekeeping force, but the U.S. could contribute communications, logistics and other support.

The administration is striving for a resolution that would end the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, now in its fourth week, and also establish conditions for a lasting cease-fire. Many other countries favor an immediate cease-fire.

The military training would be designed to help the Lebanese armed forces “exercise control and sovereignty over all of Lebanese territory once we have an end to the fighting in such a way that is durable,” McCormack said.

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown said Wednesday night the Americans and French were working on a two-stage process: An initial resolution would focus on a cease-fire and broad political principles for a settlement, and a second resolution would deal with an international peacekeeping force, border security and other long-term issues.

“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,” Malloch Brown said on PBS’s “The Newshour with Jim Lehrer.”

Conditions for cease-fire
France circulated an initial resolution Saturday and the new draft again expresses “utmost concern at the continuing escalation of hostilities in Lebanon and in Israel.”

It also details conditions needed for a cease-fire, including:

  • Strict respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Israel and Lebanon.
  • Release of the two captured Israeli soldiers that sparked the fighting.
  • Disarmament of all militias in Lebanon and the deployment of the Lebanese army throughout southern Lebanon, which is now controlled by Hezbollah.
  • Marking the international borders of Lebanon, including the disputed Chebaa farms area, which Israel seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
  • Establishing a buffer zone from the border to Lebanon’s Litani River. Only Lebanese security forces and U.N.-mandated international forces would be allowed in the buffer zone.
  • Settlement of “the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel.”

Israeli leaders have said they want to continue fighting for 10 days to two weeks to seriously diminish Hezbollah’s military capability. Hezbollah’s chief spokesman said Thursday the militia will not agree to a cease-fire until all Israeli troops leave Lebanon.

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