The State Department says it still hopes for a U.N. resolution by Friday aimed at ending the Lebanon fighting, though officials say action early next week is more likely. A senior American envoy is being sent to the region while a U.S. effort to boost the capability of the Lebanese armed forces is being planned.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had said on return from her crisis mission to the Middle East last Monday that she hoped a cease-fire resolution could be forthcoming from the U.N. Security Council this week.
However, negotiations at the U.N. have been slowed by arguments about the sequencing of peacemaking steps between Israel and Hezbollah. And though they are not ruling out a breakthrough as soon as Friday, officials here say a resolution early next week is a more realistic expectation.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said senior administration officials are prepared to work through the weekend on Lebanon. He said Secretary Rice will join President Bush and his national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, for meetings Saturday and Sunday at the President's Texas ranch.
France is leading the effort at the United Nations for a cease-fire resolution and insists, along with other European Union member states, that a cessation of hostilities should precede the introduction of a new international peacekeeping force and a broader peace framework.
The United States has made clear it views the various elements as intertwined and that a truce should be accompanied by political arrangements to insure that the end to fighting is permanent.
Questioned about the dispute, spokesman McCormack insisted the problems are not insurmountable:
"How to do the timing and sequencing of all these elements, how they fit together, how they fit together in terms of Security Council actions and resolutions is something that we're talking about and that we're working through," he said. "We do have a real convergence here in terms of our friends and allies working on this issue. And as I said yesterday, we are working off of one sheet of paper. We're working off a common text."
McCormack said Secretary Rice is sending Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch back to the Middle East for talks with concerned parties, though he gave no details of his itinerary.
He also said Secretary Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have approved an emergency plan for the United States to help train and equip Lebanon's armed forces, so that they can take control of all the country's territory when warfare between Israel and Hezbollah ends.
At least $10 million has already been allocated for the effort, which is still being formulated by the Pentagon.
The Lebanese army did not fill the void left when Israel dismantled its self-styled "security zone" in southern Lebanon in 2000.
That left Hezbollah in control of the area and the guerilla presence on the Israeli border has been a major irritant, flaring into hostilities several times before the Hezbollah kidnap raid into Israel last month that provoked the current crisis.
The United States says any settlement now must include full implementation of two-year-old U.N. Security Council resolution 15-59.
In addition to successfully ending the Syrian military presence in Lebanon, that resolution, sponsored by the United States and France, called for the disarming of remaining Lebanese militias including Hezbollah, and deployment of the Beirut government's forces to the Israeli border.
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