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What do the French want? To be in charge

Posted by Helen Wednesday, August 02, 2006

It seems that France will not attend Thursday’s emergency UN meeting to discuss the deployment of an international force in southern Lebanon, even though the country is mooted as potential leader of such a force.

This is not simply the usual French temper tantrum but a more or less sensible stand. There is no point in sending an international force before a cease-fire. Of course, there is no suggestion as to how such a cease-fire might be achieved.

Prime Minister Olmert insists that the Israelis carry on until a viable international force is in place. Hezbollah is saying a great deal but nothing about any cease-fire or disarmament. Everyone else is insisting on a cease-fire. The Americans think there might be some purpose to an immediate international force.

French Foreign Minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, last seen hobnobbing with his Iranian counterpart, is very forceful:

“France does not want to fall into a trap that would lead to the existence of a force without a prior political agreement.”
An unnamed French diplomat was even more open:
“We will not send a force to Lebanon to continue the work of the Israeli army.”
Fair enough. What will they send a force to Lebanon for? And when? Jean-Marie Guehenno, the U.N. undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, who insists that the Security Council will not referee between France and the United States, while clearly taking the French side, told Le Monde:
“"For a force to be deployed, the fighting must stop," he said. "It will be much easier to find the troops if the fighting has stopped."

He said it could be months before a force of 10,000 to 20,000 troops would be ready for deployment.”
None of this is surprising or, even, particularly unreasonable. The question is: what is to be done in those months while the troops are being organized.