France does about-face on troops for Lebanon
Fri, August 25, 2006
PARIS -- President Jacques Chirac announced yesterday that France will send 2,000 soldiers to southern Lebanon and hopes to retain command of the UN peacekeeping force, as a top European Union official said international troops could start deploying within days.
The offer by France, Lebanon's former colonial ruler and key architect of a UN Security Council resolution to increase the force's size, was a major step toward expanding it more than a week after a ceasefire began.
It also represented a turnaround for Paris, which drew criticism last week after announcing it would only double its current 200-soldier contingent. France's role as mission commander then came under pressure, with Italy expressing a willingness to take the lead and pledging as many as 3,000 soldiers.
Dominique Moisi, an analyst with France's Institute for International Relations, said France felt the "international and national outrage at the contradiction between the French promises and what the French delivered."
"At some point, the French realized they had gone too far by doing too little," he said.
"It is a face-saving gesture."
White House spokesperson Dana Perino said U.S. President George W. Bush welcomed the decision and said an international force should be "deployed urgently."
Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency, said he wants to see the first reinforcements arrive within a week, if possible.
In a televised address broadcast across Europe and the Mideast, Chirac said he made the decision after receiving guarantees allowing the force "free movement and its ability to act when faced with a possible hostile situation."
"We obtained the necessary clarifications on the chain of command, which must be simple, coherent and reactive," Chirac said, adding he will evaluate the size of the French contingent over the next six months as events progress.
"I am convinced today that French soldiers can be deployed effectively."
Chirac sought to claim some credit for drawing in other countries, saying he had "spoken with several of my counterparts to persuade them to take their full part."