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US spars with council partners over UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon

© AFP/File | Members of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)

UNITED NATIONS (UNITED STATES) (AFP) - 

The United States is wrestling with its Security Council partners over renewing the UN peacekeeping mission mandate in Lebanon, which Washington is calling to strengthen against the opinions of Paris and Moscow.

Annual renewal of the mission's mandate, which expires at the end of August, is normally uneventful -- but the Donald Trump administration this year is pushing to bolster the force's authority against arms movements by Hezbollah, the Shiite militia.

"The Security Council cannot adopt a business-as-usual approach when so much is at stake," said US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in a statement Wednesday, released as close door UN Security Council consultations on the topic wrapped up.

"We call on the members of the Security Council to join us in taking real action to make UNIFIL a stronger peacekeeping mission and to stand up against forces of terror in Lebanon and around the region."

She said beefing up the force is necessary as "Hezbollah openly boasts about its illegal stockpile of weapons and publicly threatens" Israel, a key US ally.

But France said Wednesday it wants the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon to stick to its current mandate.

Anne Gueguen, France's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, told reporters her government saw no need to change the 2006 Security Council resolution that sets the mission's current mandate.

"We want to keep the mandate as such," she said.

Gueguen spoke before the talks on whether to extend the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon for another year.

After the talks, Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said his government also saw no need to change the mandate for the force, a position he said was shared by many at the session.

"We think this mandate should be renewed in the present form," he said.

- 'Decisive role' -

Set up in 1978, UNIFIL was beefed up after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, charged with guaranteeing a ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal from a demilitarized zone on the Israeli-Lebanese border. It now has 10,500 troops on the ground monitoring the ceasefire and helping the Lebanese government secure its borders.

"We are for a reaffirmation of its mandate and the optimal effectiveness of its mission," the French diplomat said.

On August 7, Haley said UNIFIL's mandate should be enhanced to prevent the spread of illegal weapons in southern Lebanon, which she blamed on Hezbollah and said threatened the region's stability.

"UNIFIL must increase its capacity and commitment to investigating and reporting these violations," she said.

France, which contributes 800 troops to UNIFIL, plans to submit a resolution extending the force's mandate for another year, Gueguen said.

"UNIFIL plays a decisive role to stabilize the south of Lebanon in a very difficult original context and it has demonstrated a stabilizing effect in the volatile, complex and troubled environment," she said.

In a letter to the Security Council on August 4, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he wanted to look at ways to improve UNIFIL's efforts "regarding the illegal presence of armed personnel, weapons or infrastructure inside its area of operations."

A Security Council vote on renewing UNIFIL's mandate is expected on August 30.

© 2017 AFP