"The Western program for Lebanon"
There has been an intensive round of talks in Paris involving Lebanese president Siniora, Condoleeza Rice, Ban Ky Moon, Amru Musa, Sarkozy, and a large supporting cast of notables and informants. Insofar as the talks dealt with Lebanon, the Western press including the Lebanese paper the Daily Star, says these talks are mainly about re-affirmations of Western support for the Siniora government. The Lebanese opposition newspaper Al-Akhbar says there is a lot more to it than that, explaining that the talks are noteworthy for the way they "shed light on the Western program that has been set for Lebanon". The main point is that reports of various talks indicate there is a plan to get UN authorization for an expansion or a change in the mandate for the UNIFIL forces that would involve them along the Lebanon-Syria border, and perhaps change their rules of engagement. The initial step in this, having the UN send "experts in border security" to monitor the Lebanon-Syria border
...was the principal topic in the conversation yesterday in Paris between president Siniora and US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice....Sources close to Siniora said the conversation centered on the need to make the question of border-security with Syria the focus of efforts in the coming weeks.It wasn't the only indication of things to come.
Paris has been the scene of noteworthy communications pointing in the direction of what [Lebanese culture minister] Tareq Mitri called "the need for changes in the principles of operation of the special [UN] forces in the South", a formulation that gave rise to...statements about the danger of [an attempted] exploitation of the criminal attack on a Spanish unit for the purposes of changing the rules of engagement for UNIFIL.Yet another indication of what the West has in mind was provided by
...a source close to the Elysee Palace who said [describing talks between siniora and Sarkozy]: "The talks started out about Lebanon, but suddenly switched to Darfur, which reflects the French anxiety that the situation in Lebanon could explode, in the light of events on the ground there. The was discussion of the multilateral force proposed for Darfur, and that makes the issue of securing the Lebanon-Syria border the topic for the next round."But the journalist seems to think the really tell-tale remark came from culture minister Mitri. He writes:
But the new point was what minister Mitri explained about Siniora studying with the UN secretary general conditions on the border with Syria. Mitri stressed: "The aims of Unifil open the door to talking about the entire security situation in Lebanon." And he said he sees the recent attack in the south as requiring a revision of the rules of engagement for UNIFIL... We have learned that the remarks of Mitri have triggered alarm in military and political circles, where it is pointed out that the daily operations of the UN force are defined in an agreement signed with the Lebanese army, so doesn't concern others.And in the same vein, he says the UN forces in the south are starting to talk about the need for expanded powers. The journalist reminds readers of the complicated domestic-Lebanese negotiations that took place at the end of the Israeli attack last summer setting out the limited powers of the UN force. The idea is that Rice, Sarkozy and others appear to be engaged in a plan to upset that equlibrium, in the interests of creating a bigger foreign military presence in Lebanon, and even (as the Elysee source perhaps inadvertently indicated) seeing Lebanon through the lens of Darfur.