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Annan plans Mideast trip to Syria and Iran

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan plans to visit Israel, Lebanon, Iran and Syria in coming days to help shore up an uneasy Lebanon cease-fire, the United Nations announced on Wednesday.
/ Source: Reuters

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan plans to visit Israel, Lebanon, Iran and Syria in coming days to help shore up an uneasy Lebanon cease-fire, the United Nations announced on Wednesday.

Annan’s trip is aimed at implementing the Aug. 11 Security Council Resolution 1701, calling for a truce between Israel and Hezbollah and the deployment of a U.N. force of up to 15,000 troops to help enforce it, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Formation of the new force, considered vital to solidifying the fragile truce in southern Lebanon, has proceeded slowly.

Several European nations expected to contribute troops have balked. They say they want to see clearer guidelines of how the force will operate, although draft rules issued last Thursday had had European input.

Dujarric could not say if Annan would be in Iran before Aug. 31, the Security Council deadline for Tehran to suspend its nuclear enrichment work. One European diplomat said Annan had wanted to go to Tehran for some time to discuss the nuclear issue and that the month-long Lebanon war gave him a pretext.

Secretary to Brussels
Annan will visit Brussels on Friday for a European foreign ministers’ meeting on U.N. troop deployment in Lebanon and would then go to Lebanon, Israel, Syria and Iran.

Other stops include the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, Dujarric said.

President Bush spoke to Annan about the trip and the U.N. peacekeeping force for about 14 minutes, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, adding that the secretary-general believed progress was “being made on assembling” the force.

Dujarric said “the visit to Iran, as to the other places, is to make sure that all those who have an influence in the implementation of 1701 use that influence positively.”

“It is clear that Iran has an influence on certain parts of Lebanese society, and we would hope to use that influence positively,” Dujarric said.

Iran and Syria are backers of Hezbollah, the Shiite “Party of God.” Western nations accuse Tehran of sending weapons to the militia through Syria as well as giving Hezbollah cash to distribute to southern Lebanese families whose homes were destroyed by Israel during the conflict.

Earlier trip canceled
Last November Annan canceled a trip to Tehran in response to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call that Israel “must be wiped off the map.”

But U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq said the recent adoption of Resolution 1701 on the Israeli-Hezbollah war made a trip to Iran imperative.

Annan has been in touch with Syrian leaders by telephone but a mission he sent to the region last month was refused entry to Damascus because U.N. advisor Terje Roed-Larsen, a Norwegian diplomat was one of its three members.

Damascus, diplomats said, had barred Roed-Larsen because of his reports on a 2004 Security Council resolution demanding Syrian forces withdraw from Lebanon and militia disarm.