Bush, Blair call for multinational force

Published July 29, 2006

WASHINGTON - President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared Friday that a multinational force should be dispatched quickly to help Lebanon regain control of the southern part of its country from the Hezbollah militia.

However, the leaders again stopped short of supporting an immediate cease-fire in the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel, which Arab and European leaders have been urging.

As Middle East violence raged, Bush and Blair said at a White House news conference that the makeup of the multinational force would be discussed at a U.N. meeting Monday called by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The force would both lead to stability and help speed the safe delivery of humanitarian aid, they said.

Bush said he was sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice back to the Mideast this weekend to help negotiate terms for such a force with both Lebanese and Israeli leaders.

Blair called the fighting "a complete tragedy for Lebanon, for Israel and for the wider region."

The president said his and Blair's goal was a U.N. resolution "setting out a clear framework for cessation of hostilities on an urgent basis, and mandating the multinational force."

But many issues surrounding the force remained to be defined.

U.S. officials say European troops would probably dominate the force. Rice said she didn't anticipate U.S. combat troops would be involved, and Blair has ruled out contributing British forces, citing Britain's former role as a colonial power in the region.

And, Blair said, international forces could go in only after a suitable cease-fire.

"This can only work," he said, if Hezbollah is "prepared to allow it to work."

The government announced Friday that two Hezbollah politicians signed on to a peace package that calls for an immediate cease-fire, a prisoner release and a strengthened international force in southern Lebanon, among other conditions.