- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have approved a program to help train and equip the Lebanese army once hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah are over, the State Department said yesterday.

The Lebanese army’s improved capabilities are essential for its collaboration with an international force along the Israel-Lebanon border and for the Beirut government to take control of the entire country, U.S. officials said.

Because the United States will not participate in the security force, it is offering to contribute with training and equipment, they said.

“Once we do have conditions on the ground permitting,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, “we can help the Lebanese armed forces exercise control and sovereignty over all of Lebanese territory.”

Mr. McCormack offered no further details, saying only that other countries would help the U.S. personnel who would be involved in the training. Nor was there word from Beirut on whether the government there would accept the Bush administration’s plan.

The announcement about the U.S. proposal came as Washington and Paris worked on narrowing their differences over a U.N. Security Council resolution providing for an end to the conflict and the deployment of an international force.

The United States wants the force to go in as soon as hostilities stop to prevent Hezbollah from re-establishing its operational base in southern Lebanon. France, which is likely to lead the force, is opposed to any deployment before a lasting cease-fire and a broad political agreement.

As a compromise, France yesterday proposed beefing up the U.N. observer mission now in southern Lebanon to monitor implementation of the truce until the new international force can be deployed.

The revised French draft resolution also foresees a buffer zone where only Lebanese and the international troops mandated by the United Nations would be allowed. Israel, however, wants its troops to remain in the area until the international force is in place.

France also is opposed to Israel’s insistence on the right to take “defensive action” against Hezbollah attacks during a truce.

“We feel pretty optimistic that there’s going to be something” worked out on a resolution by early next week, said White House spokesman Tony Snow.

Also next week, a meeting of countries willing to contribute troops to the security force is expected to take place at the United Nations after it was postponed twice this week.

Miss Rice plans to spend the weekend at President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, and will be “working the phones” from there, Mr. McCormack said.

He noted that C. David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, left for the region yesterday.

Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday that the Lebanese army “needs a significant upgrade of equipment and training capability,” which “the Western nations, particularly the United States, can assist with.”

“We saw that they needed some significant spare parts” and other assistance when command officials visited the Lebanese armed forces for an assessment before the recent conflict, Gen. Abizaid said.

“It will never work for Lebanon if, over time, Hezbollah has a greater military capacity than the Lebanese armed forces,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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