Italy offers to lead UN Lebanon force
By Honor Mahony
Italy has formally offered to lead a UN international peacekeeping force in Lebanon and has said it will provide 2000 soldiers.
Italian prime minister Romano Prodi made the offer on Monday (21 August) and it has been accepted by Beirut.
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"I confirmed the Italian willingness," said Mr Prodi according to Reuters.
He added that UN secretary general Kofi Annan is set to decide about the command of the forces by the weekend.
"[Mr Annan] will do that after completing all of the analyses and meetings with all of the leaders of all of the countries that could be interested in the mission," said the Italian leader.
Italy's promise to send 2000 soldiers is the biggest commitment so far with countries hesitant to make firm promises until the rules of engagement are clear.
The Italian move stands in marked contrast to France which having been behind the diplomatic negotiations to work out a UN ceasefire resolution had also been expected to provide the bulk of the troops - instead it had said it will provide only 200 troops.
France's stalling - due to worries about the chain of command - has unleashed strong criticism by several commentators in the US with critical editorials in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.
A piece in Monday's New York Times entitled 'Waiting for Jacques' said "It would be tempting to laugh about France's paltry commitment of 200 additional peacekeepers for Lebanon, if it weren't so dangerous."
When the Security Council agreed earlier this month on a cease-fire resolution, scripted by the French and the Americans, it was with the clear understanding that Paris would head the 15,000-member international force and contribute a large number of troops," the article continues.
The administration in Washington has also voiced some dissatisfaction.
"I would hope they would put more troops in," president George W. Bush said. "They understand the region as well as anybody."
With pressure from Washington to see a quick deployment of a UN force in the background, EU officials will meet in Brussels on Wednesday (23 August) to try and coordinate their efforts.
So far several EU member states including Italy, France, the UK, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Greece, Belgium, Finland and Portugal have indicated they will contribute.
But the general effort falls far short of UN expectations of around 3,500 troops in place by the beginning of September with an overall aim of eventually having 15,000 troops in southern Lebanon.