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Annan Urges U.N. to Send Peacekeepers to West Bank

Diplomacy: Secretary- general pushes the idea despite U.S. and Israeli objections. Some American allies are giving it serious thought.

April 19, 2002|WILLIAM ORME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNITED NATIONS — Despite U.S. and Israeli opposition, Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the U.N. Security Council on Thursday to dispatch a large multinational force to the West Bank to guard aid deliveries, provide security during the rebuilding of devastated Palestinian areas and monitor an eventual cease-fire.

U.S. officials have said they oppose the introduction of outside forces as long as Israel objects--and Israeli officials here reiterated their opposition Thursday.

For practical and political reasons, most council members acknowledge, a Middle East peacekeeping force would require strong U.S. diplomatic backing and probably logistical support. The U.S., with its veto power on the council, retains control over any such decision.

Yet Annan, described by aides as deeply disturbed by the council's seeming inability to brake the violence--and emboldened by European and Arab calls for direct international intervention in the region--decided to press ahead with his proposal despite U.S. opposition.

"He knows he is going out on a limb with this," said a diplomat from a European member of the Security Council.

Some of the closest U.S. allies on the 15-member council--among them Britain, Norway and Mexico--said they were giving Annan's idea serious consideration.

"We have just been presented with very, very substantial food for thought," said a British diplomat after Annan addressed the council. "If you are not going to do this, then you have to think hard about what the other alternatives are."

The widespread view among diplomats here is that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's just-completed mission to the Middle East, which failed to achieve a cease-fire, and remarks by President Bush on Thursday seemingly endorsing Israel's siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters suggest that mediation efforts should not be left exclusively to Washington.

And none of the council members challenged Annan's contention Thursday that the Israelis and Palestinians cannot be trusted on their own to abide by a cease-fire.

Annan first proposed sending foreign troops into the Palestinian territories while at U.N. offices in Geneva last week.

He elaborated Thursday, saying that a multinational force should supervise a cease-fire and an Israeli withdrawal to positions its army held before the outbreak of the Palestinian rebellion in September 2000. The peacekeepers should remain to impose order while rebuilding efforts and political negotiations get underway, he said.

Only a foreign force can be counted on to halt "the tragic and terrifying descent into bloodletting that we have all been watching over the past few months," he said.

As envisioned by the secretary-general, the force would not necessarily require the prior approval of Israel, which has long opposed the presence of foreign troops in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "It is time for the international community to pursue such an option in a proactive way, rather than waiting for the parties to arrive at this conclusion on their own," Annan said.

The council should authorize the force under the collective self-defense provisions of Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, Annan said, relying on "a coalition of the willing" to provide troops, as with the peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

"I would expect the parties to cooperate with such a force and to facilitate its deployment," he said. "It is in their interest to do so."

Israeli officials disagreed.

"Israel firmly objects to a deployment of such a force at this stage, since it will only reward the Palestinian side and discourage it from fighting terrorism," the government said in a statement issued here.

Annan suggested that U.N.-backed peacekeepers might more effectively deter terrorism than Israeli troops, who at times are targeted by Palestinian militants. Israeli officials disagree, saying international troops also would be exposed to terrorist attacks.

Although Annan declined later to estimate the optimal size of such a force, he noted that in Bosnia-Herzegovina about 60,000 peacekeepers were ultimately able to "pacify" a region also riven by explosive ethnic and territorial disputes.

The secretary-general's proposal gave fresh impetus to an Arab-backed Security Council resolution endorsing a "third-party presence on the ground"--a measure that was temporarily withdrawn while Powell was visiting the region. Washington had vowed to veto the resolution, objecting not just to the third-force plan but also to the Arabs' harsh condemnation of Israel.

But European delegations are now consulting with their capitals to see whether a substitute resolution might be offered endorsing the broad outlines of the Annan proposal, even in the face of U.S. opposition.

"Among our questions are whether it is practical, whether it can achieve its goals and whether the cooperation of all parties can be attained," a European diplomat said.

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