France, backed by other countries in the Security Council, has firmly refused to respond to the US demands to introduce major changes to the mandate granted under UNSC Resolution 1701 to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), or to reduce its troops, budget or period of operation, diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“The United States, supported in part by Britain, believes that the discussion should focus on reviewing the responsibilities, structure and financing of UNIFIL, in parallel with improving the performance and effectiveness of this international force,” according to a diplomat who attended the closed meeting held by the Security Council on Tuesday to discuss Resolution 1701 and the extension of UNIFIL’s mandate.
US Ambassador Kelly Craft stressed the need for a new mandate. “The US has long reiterated publicly and privately that the status quo in Lebanon is unacceptable,” Craft said in a statement to The Associated Press after the meeting. “Now is the time to empower UNIFIL, end the long complacency, and enable the mission to fully achieve what it was set out to accomplish.”
Another diplomat told Asharq Al-Awsat that the five permanent members of the Security Council, namely, the US, France, Britain, Russia and China, “held a meeting on Monday, during which a preliminary draft of the resolution was distributed.”
The diplomat talked about wide differences between France and the US over the UNIFIL mandate’s renewal process.
The US proposed “shortening the UNIFIL mission to six months,” as well as reducing the number and budget of the international troops. But France strongly rejected the proposal and affirmed its readiness “to introduce amendments to Resolution 1701 under Chapter VI.”
Western diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that France distributed to the rest of the four permanent members a draft-resolution aimed at extending UNIFIL’s mission, after including amendments to its mandate, allowing the forces to implement “more effectively” the provisions of UNSC Resolution 1701, especially with regards to preventing the presence of weapons and militants in its area of operations between the Blue Line and the Litani River.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had called on the members of the Security Council to renew the UNIFIL mandate for a period of 12 months, stressing the importance of preserving the force, which was first established in 1978 to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli forces following the first invasion of Lebanon.
France is expected to circulate its draft-resolution to the rest of the member-states before the international forces’ mandate expires on Aug. 31.