Kissinger: Disarming Hezbollah Key to Mideast Peace

The crisis in the Middle East boils down to a very basic issue: whether Hezbollah is disarmed, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told FOX News Wednesday.

"The fundamental issue that all Americans need to keep in mind is either Hezbollah is disarmed or it is not," said Kissinger, who served as secretary under Presidents Nixon and Ford.

"If Hezbollah wins, armed by Iran, with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in their forces, and if Hezbollah remains intact, then it doesn't matter what's written in the resolution," Kissinger said, referring to a Middle East cease-fire proposal being debated in the United Nations Security Council.

"Chaos and tensions in the Middle East will continue," he said. "That is the simple problem that has to be dealt with."

Passage of the resolution seemed unlikely Wednesday as France changed its stance on the U.S.-backed plan, and Israel vowed it would not withdraw troops from the embattled region without a multi-national peacekeeping force occupying southern Lebanon.

Representatives of the Arab League called for changes in the resolution, demanding a complete halt of Israeli-Hezbollah hostilities and the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon, diplomats said.

"What the Israelis are doing with their military is sometimes inexplicable to me," Kissinger said.

"If Hezbollah is not disarmed, then the moderates in the Middle East are going to be discouraged," he said. "Lebanon is likely to be taken over by Hezbollah sooner or later, and this whole crisis will repeat itself. That is the fundamental issue, and not all of these tactical moves."

The former secretary of state said that if a multinational police force or Israeli forces manage to disable the militant Islamic group, moderate Arab countries can work with the rest of the international community on "the Palestinian issue," and other matters of significance in the region.

Kissinger predicted that Israel will heed whatever resolution is passed by the U.N., and Hezbollah "will listen to it depending on what shape it is in when the resolution is passed."

But, he said, turning over the job of disempowering Hezbollah to the Lebanese army is "totally unrealistic" because those forces haven't set foot in southern Lebanon since 1982.

At the U.N., meanwhile, France proposed new language on a total cease-fire and Israeli pullout, but the Americans rejected it out of concern that without a robust international force, a vacuum would be created in southern Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold, the diplomats said.

Israel said Wednesday it would not pull its troops out of southern Lebanon until an international peacekeeping force was in place, a senior government official told The Associated Press. A top U.S. envoy delivered the message from Israel to Lebanon.

"Israel is still rejecting the withdrawal and is refusing to talk about Chebaa Farms," the Lebanese official said, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to release the information. "Israel is insisting on waiting until an international deterrent force is in place." Chebaa Farms is a slice of land occupied by Israel but claimed by Lebanon, which has demanded it be returned as part of a cease-fire deal.

The message was conveyed to Prime Minister Fuad Saniora by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch in two meetings Wednesday.

During talks at the U.N., French President Jacques Chirac said that giving up on efforts to secure an immediate Mideast cease-fire would be the international community's "most immoral" possible response.

Chirac, speaking at a news conference in southern France after an urgent meeting with three Cabinet ministers, implicitly criticized U.S. reservations about pushing for an immediate cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah.

"The most immoral of solutions would be to accept the current situation and give up on an immediate cease-fire," he said.

While both France and the United States welcomed Lebanon's announcement Monday that it will deploy 15,000 soldiers to the south when Israel withdraws, the U.S. does not believe this force and U.N. peacekeepers can prevent a vacuum, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are private.

U.S. and French diplomats had been hoping for a vote on the draft early this week. But the differences between the co-sponsors meant that a Security Council vote on the resolution to try to end the fighting would be delayed at least until Thursday.

Saniora said after meeting with Welch that he does not expect the United Nations to agree on a cease-fire resolution in the next several days. Saniora told reporters that no progress had been made to end the fighting, adding that there were contacts on several fronts to end the violence but "there is nothing new so far."

Asked if he expected the U.N. Security Council to issue a resolution on Wednesday, he said he foresaw nothing "today or tomorrow."

France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said he still expects a vote this week.

"Our goal is to produce a text that will be helpful, which will help to have the hostilities ending, and a text which will help to a sustainable solution," he said. "The text will be improved, and I am working to improve the text."

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton refused to comment on specifics of the negotiations but acknowledged in an interview that differences remain.

"We're still pressing for a vote on a resolution as early as we can, but we've got to reach agreement, and there are still a lot of issues that need to be considered," Bolton told The Associated Press. "So, when will the vote be? It's hard to say at this point."

Bolton and de La Sabliere were expected to continue their negotiations on Wednesday and meet with three Arab envoys who flew to New York to address the Security Council and support the Lebanese government's seven-point plan, which it wants incorporated in the resolution.

The U.S.-French draft circulated Saturday calls for "a full cessation of hostilities," with Hezbollah immediately stopping all attacks and Israel ending offensive military operations. But Israel would still be allowed to take defensive action and there is no call for the withdrawal of its 10,000 troops from southern Lebanon.

FOX News' Catherine Donaldson-Evans and The Associated Press contributed to this report.