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Plans for peacekeeping force taking shape
Four nations indicate willingness to join force for securing Lebanon
From John King
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, left, talks with Lebanese parliamentary speaker Saad Hariri after talks in Rome.
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TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN) -- France, Italy, Turkey and Norway show a willingness to join an international peacekeeping force for Lebanon, according to diplomatic sources familiar with discussions at Wednesday's emergency Mideast summit in Rome.
Although none of the nations mentioned any troop numbers, "all are taking an active look at their capabilities to help," one of the sources, a U.S. diplomat, said.
A European diplomat involved in the talks said France and Italy pledged to take part, and several other nations were "inclined to participate but waiting to see more how this develops."
European Union officials are taking the lead in seeking troop commitments. Although participants could not agree on an immediate cease-fire, the Rome summit decided such a force should be formed, with a U.N. mandate.
One of the officials said building on the existing U.N. force would be the fastest way to get peacekeepers in place if a cease-fire deal were reached.
Under this plan, the U.N. force would be bolstered with the first waves of new troop commitments. Eventually it would be replaced by the larger, new force as the peacekeeping mission expanded, the official said.
The sources stressed the ideas were still under discussion and any new force would not be formed without a cease-fire.
The French command the U.N. force in place but "are a little wary" about a larger role because of their history in Lebanon, one of the diplomats said.
Both said no decision has been made on which nation would take command if and when the new force is authorized.
Significantly, they said the United States acknowledged in the Rome talks that the disarmament of Hezbollah "would be a process, not something that happens overnight," as one of the sources put it.
Both said significant obstacles to negotiating a cease-fire remain, but the new force should be developed while the tougher discussions about ending the hostilities continue.
To that end, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plans to return to the Middle East this weekend and is likely to visit both Israel and Lebanon.
Rice's Mideast deputies David Welch and Elliot Abrams returned to Jerusalem Thursday to continue the discussions while Rice is in Asia.
They plan discussions with both Israeli and Lebanese officials.
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