U.S., France Agree on Draft Cease-Fire Resolution to End Mideast Violence

The United States and France agreed Saturday on a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for a "full cessation" of fighting between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, but would allow Israel to defend itself if attacked.

The draft, obtained by The Associated Press, "calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations."

That language is a major victory for Israel, which has insisted it must have the right to respond if Hezbollah launches missiles against it. France and many other nations had demanded an immediate halt to the fighting without conditions as a way to push the region back toward stability.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton and French President Jacques Chirac's office confirmed that agreement had been reached on the text of a draft resolution.

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The full 15-nation Security Council was to meet later Saturday to discuss the resolution, and it was likely to be adopted in the next couple of days, Bolton said.

"We're prepared to continue to work tomorrow in order to make progress on the adoption of the resolution but we have reached agreement and we're now ready to proceed," Bolton said. "We're prepared to move as quickly as other members of the council want to move."

The resolution would call for the current U.N. force in Lebanon, known by its acronym UNIFIL, to monitor the cessation in fighting. Once Israel and Lebanon have agreed to a series of steps also spelled out in the resolution for a long-term solution, the Security Council would then authorize a new peacekeeping force for the region.

It would "support the Lebanese armed forces and government in providing a secure environment and contribute to the implementation of a permanent cease-fire and a long-term solution."

That element was a victory for France. The U.S. and Israel had earlier insisted that there would be no deal without the immediate deployment of a new force, separate from UNIFIL.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was at President George W. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, but will head back for a vote.

"She will be prepared to go to New York," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Since fighting began, the U.N. Security Council has failed to take any action to stop it, primarily because of opposition from the United States, Israel's closest ally.

Any deal would have to gain the acceptance of both Israel and Hezbollah, which could prove difficult.

Israel says it wants to continue fighting for up to two weeks to seriously diminish Hezbollah's military capability; Hezbollah's chief spokesman said Thursday the militia will not agree to a cease-fire until all Israeli troops leave Lebanon.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch met with Lebanese officials in Beirut Saturday trying to pave the way for ending hostilities. He talked with Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a prominent Shiite who has been negotiating on behalf of Hezbollah.

He said the talks focused on establishing a lasting political framework for Lebanon and an international force to support the Lebanese army in taking control of the south from Hezbollah.

The fighting has been raging since July 12 when Hezbollah guerrillas crossed into northern Israel and captured two Israeli soldiers.