18 August 2006
Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown at Press Encounter Following Meeting of Troop-Contributing Countries at UN Headquarters, 17 August 2006
Deputy Secretary-General: Alright. Well, let me just make a quick remark first. I think we are in business. We have had a lot of interesting offers this afternoon -- some fairly firm, some conditional, on seeing the rules of engagement and the concept of operations which we discussed this afternoon and which the delegations will be sending back to their capitals, with the actual documents themselves going tomorrow, following up on the initial documentation we have given them today. So we had three sets of would-be participants. Those who were already in a condition to be relatively firm; those who need to see the details, particularly on the rules of engagement; and then a third group who are, in principle, willing to support, but who have not yet in their own national systems, come up with specific offers. And again, we will be looking at, I suspect, where there were gaps in today's promises.
So, a reasonable start, and I would say the show is on the road. We are in business, but a lot of work to be done in the coming days to meet the deadline that we insisted on in this meeting, which is that we have 3,500 additional troops deployed within 10 days from now.
Question: What was the biggest question regarding the rules of engagement that concerned these other countries?
Deputy Secretary-General: Very much the issue is under what circumstances will our troops have to engage in hostile, offensive activities. What we said to them was, look, this is a prudently designed rules of engagement which is non-offensive in character, but very much does call on you to robustly use force if it's necessary. What we mean by that, is that the whole principle of this resolution and, therefore, of this force, is that there is a political agreement which is honoured by both sides, and which on the Lebanese side calls for disarmament in the country, and particularly as far as we are concerned south of the Litani, so that the role of this force is no large-scale disarmament of Hizbollah but rather policing a political agreement and when the Lebanese Government and Hizbollah have agreed to disarm, and, therefore, the challenges that we would encounter are relatively limited ones, of small groups trying to smuggle in arms, or carry arms, and in those cases if they do not voluntarily disarm when confronted by our troops, and if they try to forcefully resist disarmament, then we will indeed employ force ourselves to disarm them.
Question: Were you disappointed by the French decision not to send more than 200 people, and how is that going to impact your efforts to get quickly on the ground an efficient force?
Deputy Secretary-General: Well, we were disappointed, yes. We had hoped France would be able to do more. But President Chirac has been very clear with the Secretary-General that France is keeping its 1,700 troops at sea in the area to give logistics support for the force. It is doubling its current level of contribution and we are going to stay in touch on what more is possible. But I think the point that France additionally made, which is the legitimacy of this force given the very delicate and politically divided environment into which it is being introduced, is enhanced if it is seen as having a number of very significant contributors who, between them, represent a wider geographic balance than just one lead country. I think that point is one which we actually concur with. So the key thing now is to get others to step forward and I would just say that, while, frankly, going into the meeting, I had feared that the French announcement might cast a shadow over the meeting, it did not deter others from coming forward with offers. Which is why we have come out of the meeting relatively optimistic. Benny?
Question: The word used last week was "backbone". Do you still think that France should lead and not follow?
Deputy Secretary-General: Well, France led very strongly in the diplomatic phase of this, and you know, I was very glad it did lead because we got to a resolution, to 1701. As I say, we had hoped, we make no secret of it, that there would be a stronger French contribution, but I think we are happy with what they have given us. Others have come forward and we are pretty convinced we've got the elements here of a strong force which is very multilateral in character, but well able to do the task it will be given.
Question: Lots of people have given us briefings now, but nobody has been able to pinpoint a figure, as to how many countries are willing to contribute, how many troops are being committed so far, and how many are going to give commitments for the future, and what do you see?
Deputy Secretary-General: It is hard because it is really up to countries to tell you because a lot of them have got problems that they need to get parliamentary approval, or other governmental approval before they can stand in front of the cameras and say "we've made the commitment". In all there were 23 speakers this afternoon -- about a third of them made relatively firm commitments. About one third, and I use relative because even they needed to see the rules of engagements and send this documentation back to their capitals for sign-off. A second third made conditional commitments in which they felt there was still a fairly major hurdle to cross in terms of reviewing these documents I had referred to. And a final third were much more cautious, just offering support in principle.
Question: [inaudible] additional troops on the ground within 10 days?
Deputy Secretary-General: Well, let me put it the other way. We have to have 3,500 troops on the ground within 10 days. Things may go better than we expect, and I may be able to lower that estimate, but for us this isn't so much a matter of less confidence this end, although this meeting, I think, gave us a pretty clear sense of where these troops might come from. But it's more what we have always argued, which is the current cessation of hostilities is not going to be stable for long. It has to move towards a full disengagement and ceasefire and, therefore, this deployment of 3,500 is very, very important.
Question: In view of the UN forces' non-involvement in the original disarmament process, at least at the outset as you described, what confidence have you that the other party concerned will have, for want of a better phrase, the guts to do so?
Deputy Secretary-General: I think the answer to that is that it is a political agreement in Lebanon involving all parts of the Government, including its Hizbollah ministers. You know Hizbollah has been clear that it is part of a political process and it is willing to accept disarmament -- that was enshrined in the seven-point plan of Prime Minister Siniora and his Government. It was very clearly restated in yesterday's Cabinet meeting and affirmed by Prime Minister Siniora when he spoke to his nation last night, so we are confident that, if this political process continues, indeed it will happen, and we will, therefore, be able to play our role in ensuring compliance with the Lebanese army, and supporting them in that function.
Question: Do you think that now you have the 3,500 that you need, just given, you were in the room, you had the back of the envelope, jotting stuff down. Do you think you have it?
Deputy Secretary-General: We have it in quantitative terms, but the issue is, which battalions can we get there in the timeline required? Are they the right battalions, with the right skills and equipment, and do they represent a multilateral enough group of countries. So, I don't want to give you an instant answer. We've got to follow up on this, but the general mood in there was the desire to support and contribute to a full understanding of the urgency of the deadline.
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