The United States and France appeared at odds Wednesday over Arab demands to change a U.N. resolution they are co-sponsoring to call for a complete cessation of Israeli-Hezbollah hostilities and withdrawal of Israeli forces, diplomats said.
France proposed new language on a total cease-fire and Israeli pullout, but the United States rejected it out of concern that without a robust international force, a vacuum would be created in southern Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold, the diplomats said.
While both countries welcomed Lebanon’s announcement Monday that it will deploy 15,000 soldiers to the south when Israel withdraws, the United States does not believe this force and U.N. peacekeepers can prevent a vacuum, the diplomats said, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are private.
U.S. and French diplomats had been hoping for a vote on the draft early this week. But the differences between the co-sponsors meant that a Security Council vote on the resolution to try to end the fighting would be delayed at least until Thursday.
Vote this week?
France’s U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said he still expects a vote this week.
“Our goal is to produce a text that will be helpful, which will help to have the hostilities ending, and a text which will help to a sustainable solution,” he said. “The text will be improved, and I am working to improve the text.”
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton refused to comment on specifics of the negotiations but acknowledged in an interview that differences remain.
“We’re still pressing for a vote on a resolution as early as we can, but we’ve got to reach agreement, and there are still a lot of issues that need to be considered,” Bolton told The Associated Press. “So, when will the vote be? It’s hard to say at this point.”
Bolton and de La Sabliere were expected to continue their negotiations on Wednesday and meet with three Arab envoys who flew to New York to address the Security Council and support the Lebanese government’s seven-point plan, which it wants incorporated in the resolution.
The U.S.-French draft circulated Saturday calls for “a full cessation of hostilities,” with Hezbollah immediately stopping all attacks and Israel ending offensive military operations. But Israel would still be allowed to take defensive action and there is no call for the withdrawal of its 10,000 troops from southern Lebanon.
Reconciling key differences
Lebanon opposed the draft, saying it favored Israel. The Lebanese government demanded that the cessation of hostilities must be complete and said all Israeli troops must leave, warning that their presence would be viewed as a new occupation and citing Hezbollah’s threat to shoot at any Israeli soldiers in the country.
De La Sabliere, asked about these two demands, said “we are trying to incorporate more to take into account the concerns they have expressed about the two issues.”
Lebanon also wants the resolution to include a commitment to release Lebanese and Israeli prisoners, an agreement to put the disputed Chebaa Farms area on the Lebanon-Syria-Israel border under U.N. jurisdiction, an extension of Lebanese government authority throughout the country, a beefed-up U.N. force in southern Lebanon and international help to rebuild the country.
At an open Security Council meeting on Tuesday, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani, speaking on behalf of the Arab delegation, warned Israel that continuing attacks on Lebanon will “sow the seeds of hatred and extremism in the area” rather than restore peace and stability.