UN Secretary-General briefs Security Council to mixed reaction

Kofi Annan (UN Photo/Evan Shneider)

NEW YORK - United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan made a strong call for an immediate cessation of hostilities to preserve lives with a broad, negotiated political solution between Israel and Lebanon in his briefing to the Security Council Thursday, prompting a mixed reaction from members of the Council and regional actors.

“We are not going to desert the Lebanese people in their hour of need,” Annan told Council members. “But we have to proceed with caution … most people in the region rightly reject a simple return to the status quo ante, since any truce based on such a limited outcome would not be expected to last,” he added.

Annan’s plan, based on recommendations from the UN high-level team that returned Wednesday from the region, calls for a transfer of the two Israeli soldiers abducted by Hizbollah, a militia based in southern Lebanon, and respect for the ‘Blue Line’ that demarcates the Lebanese-Israeli border until a final agreement is reached on disputed areas.

The plan contains an urgent call for donor aid for the reconstruction and development of Lebanon. It also calls for an international conference to be organised to help Lebanon comply with international obligations, including Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1680, which relate to territorial sovereignty and the disbanding of militias.

“The planning and implementation of these elements should, as far as possible, be done in parallel,” said Annan.

Nouhad Mahmoud, Special Envoy of Lebanon, was pleased with Annan’s “positive” presentation, calling him “the voice of reason” as he urged for humanitarian aid and a cease-fire to end the suffering of the people of Lebanon.

Following the briefing and closed consultations, some members of the Council voiced hope for immediate action. The Qatar Ambassador Nassir Al-Nasser, the lone Arab representation on the Council said that it had been “a very good statement” and that “the Council was in the mood to get its act together”.

“The council should react fast because the situation in Lebanon cannot wait. There are so many casualties and people need help,” he said.

Peru’s Ambassador and Council member Oswaldo de Rivero agreed there had been Council unity, particularly on the need for a ceasefire for humanitarian purposes.

Rivero said there was a difference between a ceasefire and a ceasing of hostilities. While viewing a ceasing of hostilities as “totally temporary”, a ceasefire was an agreement and this was “very difficult to undertake with groups that are considered to be terrorists,” he said, referring to Hizbollah.

“We want the hostilities to cease, but should this be delayed then we should be able to have humanitarian corridors, even if by sea or by air,” he told reporters in Spanish.

US Ambassador Bolton acknowledged the Secretary-General’s proposal, but said he still had a number of questions. “What does a terrorist group think a ceasefire is? You can use the cessation of hostilities, or truce, or cease-fire. Nobody’s yet explained how a terrorist group in a democratic state comes to a mutual ceasefire.”

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman, told reporters that a ceasefire was not possible and that he was “disturbed” by Annan’s presentation.

“Terror is the root cause of what is happening in Lebanon today. Terror has taken that country hostage and made it a victim and made its own people the victims of terror. Without addressing terror, the whole question could not be addressed,” he said.

Gillerman said there was no timeline for Israel’s action in Lebanon and that “it will take as long as it will take”.

“It will take them very, very, long and they won’t achieve anything, only the destruction of Lebanon. And I think that is what they aim for,” Nouhad Mahmoud, Special Envoy of Lebanon, told reporters in response.

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