Russia Circulates Own Mideast Cease-Fire Draft

Russia circulated a draft U.N. Security Council resolution Thursday that calls for a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire in Lebanon, saying the crisis was reaching "catastrophic" proportions and was too urgent to wait for passage of a separate U.S.-French measure.

The move came as the United States and France appeared close to breaking a deadlock on their long-awaited resolution and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said there could be a vote on their proposal Friday.

Responding to the Russian draft, Bolton said he did not think it was helpful to distract attention from negotiations over the U.S.-French draft.

"We're not playing games here," he said. "This is very serious."

More than 800 people have been killed in the monthlong conflict which has devastated Lebanon.

"This diplomatic activity is not being conducted in a quiet academic environment," Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin said. "War is raging in Lebanon and the humanitarian situation is getting catastrophic."

He said that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan supported the Russian proposal for a 72-hour cease-fire.

The Russian ambassador said his proposal would also call for diplomats to speed up their efforts to seek a political solution.

"We hope it will focus minds, it will energize politicians and diplomats," Churkin said.

He said Russia wanted a vote on its resolution on Friday evening, which would allow the required 24 hours for other council members to consult with their governments.

Meanwhile, intensive negotiations among key Security Council members were under way on the U.S.-French proposal, lasting through the evening Thursday.

In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was quoted as saying the new proposal being drafted by the U.S. and France "has positive significance that may bring the war to an end."

"We're making progress and it's entirely possible we could have a vote tomorrow," Bolton said after a meeting with his French counterpart, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere. "We've closed some of the areas of disagreement with the French."

The United States and France have been trying to bridge differences over a timetable for an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and reach agreement on a resolution.

There were other signs that long-awaited action by the U.N. Security Council might be near.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said she was flying to New York to "reinforce" Britain's efforts to reach agreement on a resolution, calling the situation "urgent" and saying "we need now to complete the task."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also was prepared to come either to vote "or, if need be, to work out any last-minute details," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

In Jerusalem, Israeli officials said they would hold off on expanding the current offensive in Lebanon to give diplomacy more time to work. The Security Cabinet has authorized Olmert to expand the offensive.

"If the draft is not accepted, there is the Cabinet decision," lawmaker Otniel Schneller, an Olmert adviser, quoted the prime minister as saying.

Israel Television reported that the latest draft resolution calls for the current 2,000-strong U.N. force in southern Lebanon to be enlarged to 20,000 troops, with Spain, German, Italy and Australia among the new troop contributors.

The Americans and the French want to make sure the resolution is acceptable to the Israelis and the Lebanese, who rejected their original draft circulated Aug. 5.

France is backing Lebanon's call for Israeli troops to start pulling out once hostilities end and when Lebanon deploys 15,000 troops of its own in the south.

Bolton said the United States believes Lebanon's decision to deploy the army "is significant, and we are going to take account of that in the resolution." But he said the strategic issue remains how to ensure that Hezbollah does not "re-infiltrate the southern part of Lebanon."

The United States is supporting Israel's insistence on staying in southern Lebanon until a robust international force is deployed, which could take weeks or months.

The U.S. and French ambassadors met with Annan, who had spoken to Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. Bolton and de La Sabliere then met again, and another meeting of the five permanent council members was expected late Thursday.

Annan's spokesman said the secretary-general "believes that it ought to be possible for the Security Council to adopt a resolution by the end of the week," meaning by Sunday.

At a meeting of the five permanent members Wednesday evening, France presented the latest language in the draft resolution, a Security Council diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.

One key amendment "calls upon the government of Lebanon, upon cessation of hostilities, to start deploying its armed forces throughout the south as the Israeli army starts withdrawing," in coordination with U.N. peacekeepers who are already in southern Lebanon, the diplomat said.

A second resolution is expected to authorize a robust international force, possibly led by France, to help implement a cease-fire agreement.

The U.S.-French draft circulated Aug. 5 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 troops from southern Lebanon, Hezbollah's stronghold.

Lebanon opposed the draft, saying it favored Israel too strongly, a view echoed by Hezbollah on Wednesday.

The Lebanese government demanded that the cessation of hostilities must be complete — including all Israeli military activity — and said all Israeli troops must leave when the fighting stops. It warned that their presence would be viewed as a new occupation and cited Hezbollah's threat to shoot at any Israeli soldiers in the country.

French President Jacques Chirac said the draft should be revised to take into account Lebanese and Arab demands for changes. If the U.S. and France don't reach agreement, he said France might introduce its own resolution.