|Annan prepares for regional tour to shore up truce
|France backs lebanon's calls for jewish state to lift blockade
UN chief Kofi Annan will embark later this week on a major regional trip that will include stops in Lebanon, Israel and likely Syria and Iran to further the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701, his spokesman said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, France said it wants to "go further" in its commitment of peacekeeping troops in Lebanon "once conditions are fulfilled," and backed Lebanon's calls for Israel to lift its sea and air blockade.
Stephane Dujarric, Annan's spokesman, said the secretary general would begin the tour after attending a special meeting of EU foreign ministers on the proposed UN force for Lebanon Friday in Brussels.
Dujarric said the main purpose of the trip was to further "full implementation of 1701," a reference to the UN Security Council resolution agreed on August 11.
That resolution authorizes the UN force in Lebanon to be expanded from the current 2,000 troops to up to 15,000, to police a fragile cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon.
From the Belgian capital, Annan will make stops in Lebanon and Israel to meet with senior officials, he added.
Annan will also meet with officials of the Palestinian Authority and "will also travel to Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and also likely Syria and Iran," the spokesman 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," Dujarric said.
"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.
In Riyadh, meanwhile, Jordan's King Abdullah II held a brief meeting with his Saudi counterpart, King Abdullah, in which both monarchs reiterated their support to Lebanon to overcome the impact of war. They stressed the need for concerted efforts to revive the peace process and resume peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis, according to Jordan's Petra news agency.
With countries slow to commit troops to the UN force in Lebanon, the United Nations has urged the EU to lead the way.
France disappointed some of its allies by appearing to downgrade an earlier troop pledge but Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy indicated on Wednesday that Paris could dispatch more soldiers once the terms of the mission were set.
"You can't decide just like that to send in thousands of men," Douste-Blazy told France 2 television.
Later, French Premier Dominique de Villepin said France is "the country that's the most committed and present on the ground. We want to go further once conditions are fulfilled."
"It is extremely important for France - with our strong experience in Lebanon, with international experience in other arenas - that all guarantees can be supplied for an effective deployment of UNIFIL on the ground," he said after talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Paris.
In Beirut, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora called on Washington to help end Israel's sea and air blockade.
"The United States can do more," he told a news conference. "The United States can support us in putting real pressure on Israel to lift the siege."
Lebanon's An-Nahar newspaper said Wednesday that Siniora had spoken with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to enlist their help.
Douste-Blazy also renewed his calls for Israel to lift its air and sea blockade on Lebanon.
"If Lebanon is going to be reconstructed, if Lebanon is going to take off economically, the blockade must be lifted," the French minister said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that the conditions for lifting the maritime and aerial embargo were the deployment of the UN force along the Syrian border and at the Beirut airport.
Douste-Blazy also said that one of UNIFIL's main tasks would be to enforce an arms embargo to prevent Hizbullah from rearming.
"The reinforced UNIFIL will have two missions," Douste-Blazy told France 2 television.
"It will be there to permit the Lebanese Army to deploy [in the South], and to guarantee the embargo on arms delivery across all borders - I repeat, across all borders."
"We are making every effort" to safeguard the borders, Siniora said.
The Lebanese government was in discussions with a German technical team over how to improve security at Beirut's airport, and at seaports in Beirut and Tripoli, Siniora said.
Siniora denied media reports that commercial flights were being checked at Amman airport. "There are no checks from Arab or non-Arab parties," he said.
EU ambassadors and military experts met in Brussels Wednesday to prepare the stage for the extraordinary meeting Friday.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana "has spoken from the start about 4,000 European soldiers, that seems a good target, that will represent a very important presence in the international force," Solana's spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said.
However, that would be far fewer than the force of 15,000 troops that UNIFIL is expected to eventually reach.
Encouraged by Britain, Israel, Lebanon and the United States, Rome has offered to play the leading role in the force.
A UN document obtained by Reuters shows that new rules of engagement for the UN troops allow soldiers to shoot in self-defense, use force to protect civilians and resist armed attempts to interfere with their duties
The rules, given to potential troop contributors last week for approval, have been generally accepted, said Vijay Nambiar, a special adviser to Annan.
"We have not received any major requests for any change," Nambiar told a news conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday. "We assume that we will be able to finalize them imminently."
The use of force, "including deadly force," is also authorized to defend the Lebanese armed forces that a UN unit may be assigned to accompany, providing the threatening group or person is armed.
The Daily Star