Following meetings with the United States Secretary of State, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a US television audience that Washington and the world body share the same long-term objectives in responding to the Middle East crisis.
“I think on quite a lot of the broad issues there’s very little disagreement between us,” the Secretary-General, who met with Condoleezza Rice in New York on Friday evening, told the host of the CNN show “Larry King Live.”
Washington and the UN “have no disagreement on the longer-term goals,” he said. “Where we may differ is that I’m prepared to ask for immediate cessation of hostilities to allow us to assist the people, allow the diplomacy to take hold, and it does not exclude a longer-term solution and a longer-term package that would ensure that we do not return to the previous situation.”
Asked to react to comments by Ms. Rice that a ceasefire would be a “false promise” that could “guarantee future violence,” Mr. Annan drew a distinction by stressing that he has called initially for a ‘cessation of hostilities.’
“If you wish, you can even describe it as a humanitarian truce for us to be able to get assistance to the people and allow us to organize ourselves to move logistics and supplies around and to have access to the people,” he said, clarifying that a ceasefire “normally takes quite a lot of time to negotiate and to deal with.”
He stressed that he would not advocate a return to the past. “I am not suggesting that we go back to the previous situation.”
Mr. Annan recalled that he has put forward a package of proposals including not only a cessation of hostilities but also a longer-term solution which would include deployment of international forces to the south of Lebanon to stabilize the area and to help the Lebanese Government rebuild its army and expand its authority throughout its own territory.
He noted that Security Council resolution 1559 calls for the Government to deploy its forces to the border. “It does require the disarmament of militia, all militia, foreign and national,” he added.
In the absence of some move to protect civilians, Mr. Annan warned that there could be a “major humanitarian disaster,” noting that over 700,000 people have been forced to flee their homes – a number that could be a “gross underestimation.” In addition, the destruction of the infrastructure has made it “extremely difficult to even get to the ground to assess how many people need help and how we are going to get it to them.”
Asked about Israel’s military objectives, Mr. Annan noted that a presence in the south of Lebanon would foment more insecurity. “If they stay and intend to establish what they have called, in the past, a security zone or security cordon, it will be a security zone for them, but for the others will be occupation and that will intensify the resistance,” he said.
“That is also one of the reasons why I have suggested deployment of neutral international forces, to give Lebanon time and space to strengthen and prepare its own army to be deployed to the border so that you don’t have the sort of situation I have just described.”
The Secretary-General said there was “no doubt that the provocation and the acts of Hizbollah kidnapping the Israeli soldiers started off all this,” but added that “when you look at what is going on, if this continues for long, you’re going to see a situation where the public, because of what they are seeing on television, tend to forget the original sin, the original sin of the kidnapping of the soldiers, the abducting of the soldiers, and only focus on what they see on their television happening to the State of Lebanon and the civilians.”
He said Israel “should work with the international community to get a ceasefire, send the international troops in to stabilizes the situation, strengthen the Lebanese Government to take full charge and full responsibility for its territory, and implement 1559 fully, which also includes disarmament of militia, including Hizbollah.”
Asked about his characterization that Israel has used “excessive force,” Mr. Annan said if the country “had focused its target narrowly on Hezbollah and Hezbollah targets, it would be understandable. But the extensive bombing of Lebanese civilian infrastructure, of bridges, of the airport, and the blockade imposed on Lebanon, both sea and land, and the destruction of the bridges, making it very difficult for people to move around and eventually going to make it difficult to move in supplies of food, medication and others, is a punishment for the Lebanese people as a whole.”
He emphasized that Lebanon, a democratic State, did not support what Hizbollah did. “And, therefore, to punish the people of Lebanon and pressure a democratic Government to a point where it may collapse is a very serious situation,” he cautioned.
Asked about the role of Syria and Iran, the Secretary-General cited indications that both have supported Hizbollah “and, therefore, the two countries have to be part of the solution.”
They must work with the international community. “Whether we like it or not, we have to engage those two Governments if we’re going to find a longer-term solution,” he said.
Responding to a question on his feelings about the situation, the Secretary-General acknowledged moments of frustration, sadness “and, foremost, of despair with human nature because the way we turn on each other, and man’s inhumanity to man, and our ability to use violence and weapons that do so much damage to each other.”
In wars, he said, there are no victors. “Even when you win, when you look back and count what you had to do to win, the destruction, the misery, the pain inflicted on your own people and on the other side, you have to wonder if that was the best way or the only way to solve the problem.”