France walks diplomatic tightrope over Lebanon

7th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 7, 2006 (AFP) - France, which casts itself as a key defender of Lebanese interests, was on a diplomatic tightrope Monday after Beirut rejected a Franco-American draft resolution aimed at ending almost a month of bloodshed.

PARIS, Aug 7, 2006 (AFP) - France, which casts itself as a key defender of Lebanese interests, was on a diplomatic tightrope Monday after Beirut rejected a Franco-American draft resolution aimed at ending almost a month of bloodshed.

"This draft resolution is a big disappointment for the Lebanese," warned Michel Bounajem, Paris correspondent of the London-based Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. "In Beirut people think France should have fought harder and stuck to its earlier demands."

Paris broke ranks with Washington in the early stages of the conflict by calling for restraint in the Israeli offensive against Hezbollah militias — and is now seen by Lebanon as having caved in to US pressure.

"France has been put in a delicate position by its change of direction over the Lebanese affair," said Barah Mikail of the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations.

"It is caught between its wish to stay aligned with the United States and its wish to be the one to persuade Lebanon of the way out of the crisis."

"France is able to talk to all sides, it acts as a bridge between people who do not communicate with each other," said François Géré, of the French Institute of Strategic Analysis.

But this pivotal position — used in order to carry weight in the conflict — risks leaving Paris "caught between a rock and hard place," he warned.

Submitted to the United Nations at the weekend, the French-US draft calls for "a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations."

Lebanon says the text falls well short of its demands: it does not call for an immediate ceasefire, for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops or for guarantees on the return of the Israeli-occupied Shebaa farms.

UN debate on the draft, to resume Monday, has been seriously complicated by the Lebanese government's objections.

Faced with Beirut's hostile reaction, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy called on Lebanon to accept that any settlement had to be backed "by both sides", meaning it must be acceptable to Israel.

Douste-Blazy Sunday urged Lebanon to "accept its responsibilities" to end the conflict — a sharp contrast with comments he made last week speaking of a a "strong convergence of views" between Paris and Beirut.

France's foreign ministry said Monday it was "studying" Lebanon's proposals and "along with its partners in the Security Council was looking at ways of taking them into account", but that it hoped the resolution would be quickly adopted.

Seeking to shore up support from Arab leaders, Douste-Blazy held consultations at the weekend with his counterparts from Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, as well as with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Though perceived as a U-turn, Mikail said France's alignment with Washington reflected its true strategic position, saying both countries shared the same goals in Lebanon, and that its earlier divergences were a "tactical move".

"Paris tried to carry weight in the Israeli-Lebanese conflict by setting itself apart from Washington, so as to be seen as a mediator in any settlement of the crisis," he argued.

"At root, ever since the adoption of UN resolution 1559 in September 2004, France and the United States have had the same strategy towards Lebanon".

Resolution 1559 and its follow-up 1680 call for the disarming of all armed groups in Lebanon including the Shiite militia Hezbollah, and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanese soil.

"France's problem right now is that it is going along with the Americans, who have taken a pro-Israeli stance. The French have been forced to stay in line with the pro-American policy shift they took two years ago," said Mikail.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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