WASHINGTON – Lebanon's offer to send thousands of that country's troops south to police the border with Israel is an "important proposal," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Tuesday.
But one Bush administration official told FOX News that the United States is drawing a "line in the sand," saying that an international force has to deployed alongside the Lebanese forces.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora has offered to deploy up to 15,000 troops to a possible peacekeeping mission that would attempt to end Hezbollah's days of running a state within a state. The troops would be sent if Israel agrees to withdraw from the area.
Meanwhile, Arab envoys and U.N. Security Council members are in New York trying to hammer out a compromise resolution to stop the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah terrorists that began nearly a month ago. Lebanon had rejected parts of the plan, which would involve sending a multinational force to the region.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said U.S. diplomats are now taking a look at the proposal along with others at the United Nations.
"We welcome any help in figuring out how to supplement Lebanese forces" to achieve the key goals "of giving the government control over the south and preventing Hezbollah infiltration," Snow said.
Snow said, however, that the United States has always pressed for a force to supplement the Lebanese forces. He would not comment on whether it was a line in the sand for U.S. officials.
A State Department spokesman said sending troops is a necessary step for peace. However, talk and actual execution of the idea needs to take place in the context of discussions at the United Nations on an overall approach to the conflict.
"We think that that proposal is a necessary step for peace. But you also have to have that kind of deployment done in the context of the current discussions up in New York, so that you don't return to the status quo ante, so that you don't have armed militias roaming freely along the southern border of Lebanon, free to threaten Israel and plunge the region into violence," McCormack said.
"You will need international forces to support the Lebanese armed forces," he added. "They are not, at this point, a robust enough entity to be able to, on their own, exercise total control of that southern area of Lebanon. That's why you have the need for an international force."
Snow added: "The administration understands the Lebanese armed forces need help. We have to figure out the proper way" to give that assistance.
The United States expects to debut new resolution language late Tuesday or early Wednesday that would "recognize" the Lebanese offer to deploy 15,000 troops, and "make it look like it is the lead" force, without backing down on the American insistence on a real international force, which the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, the observer group that has been there for decades, decidedly is not.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is not expected in New York until the U.N. Security Council is ready for a vote on a resolution, McCormack said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the proposed Lebanese troop deployment "interesting" and said Israel would favor pulling out once it decides Hezbollah is no longer a direct threat.
But Israeli sources told FOX News they are girding for an "epic battle" at the Security Council against a single resolution that would couple the 15,000 Lebanese forces with UNIFIL, and not call for any international peacekeeping force.
Of note to U.S. observers of U.N. operations is the decision on what types of troops would be deployed as part of an international force. The three options are "blue helmet" forces, which are clearly identifiable as U.N. personnel; "multinational forces," troops contributed by numerous countries operating under U.N. control; and a coalition force like that in Iraq, in which a lead nation deploys alongside whatever other countries contribute troops but has only a Security Council resolution conferring a U.N. blessing on the enterprise.
The key difference is that if the force is a blue helmet force or a multinational force, the United States, by law, will pay 27 percent of the costs associated with the peacekeeping operation. If the force is of the third type, the lead nation will pay its own costs as will other nations that contribute troops, logistics and other assistance. The United States prefers the third option to be enacted, officials say.
FOX News' James Rosen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.