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S P E C I A L Struggle for Peace

Cook calls on Israel to withdraw from Lebanon

In this story: March 18, 1998
Web posted at: 7:29 p.m. EST (0029 GMT)

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook completed his tour of the Mideast on Wednesday by calling on Israel to honor a 20-year-old U.N. resolution demanding its withdrawal from Lebanon.

Cook flew to Beirut from Damascus, Syria, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of U.N. Security Council Resolution 425, which called on the Israelis to leave Lebanon.

Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978 to drive back Palestinian guerrillas and holds an enclave in the southern part of the country. Since 1982, Israel has encountered increasing, and often bloody, resistance from the Lebanese.

"It is very appropriate that I should be visiting Lebanon today because tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of 425," Cook said on his arrival. "We would like to see 425 implemented."

Cook said he discussed the withdrawal with both Israeli and Syrian leaders as part of a comprehensive peace plan that would include the stalled Palestinian-Israeli negotiations as well.

"We would also like to see (Resolution 425) implemented in the context of a comprehensive settlement which would enable progress on the peace process for all the tracks, not just one track," Cook said. "I wish to make sure that all sides can live in security."

Israel has said it is willing to withdraw if Lebanon would agree to security arrangements that would protect Israel's northern border. But Britain supports the Lebanese view that the resolution calls for an unconditional withdrawal.

Snubbed twice in Israel

Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri reaffirmed that stand Wednesday, adding that Israel's security was not its problem.

"If they (Israel) want to keep the state of war ... they have to carry the responsibility," Hariri said. "We cannot help them in assuring the security of Israel. The security of Israel is the responsibility of Israel."

Cook said he had similar talks earlier in the day with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad in Damascus. He said the Syrians do not see "a realistic prospect" of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.

The meetings -- Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara called them "fruitful and positive" -- were a far cry from those in Israel, where Cook was snubbed twice by Israeli leaders and jeered by Israeli demonstrators.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a working dinner with Cook Tuesday evening to protest his visit to a controversial housing project on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Opposition leader Ehud Barak matched Netanyahu by canceling a breakfast meeting with Cook Wednesday to show him that Israel is united in its claim to all of Jerusalem.

Israeli-Palestinian talks broke off a year ago when Israel began building a Jewish housing project in an area it calls Har Homa and the Palestinians know as Jabal Abu Ghneim. Suicide bombings and other violence kept the peace process at a standstill.

Talks with Syria and Lebanon over Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon broke off two years ago. Netanyahu has consistently ruled out returning the Golan Heights to Syria, which is one of Syria's primary demands. Lebanon will not negotiate alone with Israel.

New U.S. initiative expected

"We want the peace talks to resume on all tracks as soon as possible," Cook told reporters at Damascus airport.

"There is a difficulty in the peace process in that while all three tracks remain in stalemate, it is hard for any party in the negotiations to feel confident in the possibility of progress," Cook told reporters during his flight to Beirut. "And because there is no confidence in the possibility of progress, it is difficult to generate momentum toward progress."

Cook said the United States is preparing a new initiative that he hoped would end the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian talks.

"We have been in close contact with the United States," he said. "We expect them to come forward with plans soon on the Palestinian track, and we will be supporting these plans."

Cook made the tour as part of Britain's duties while it holds the rotating role of presidency of the European Union. It was hoped that his visit might jump-start peace negotiations.

But some, noting that Israel was in an "ugly and insensitive mode," say Cook's trip has been a disaster. "If the trip was designed to usher in greater Euro participation," says author and Mideast analyst Adel Darwish, "it was a failure."

New coalition may be building

But others saw the possibility of a new coalition building in the region.

Said Fred Halliday of the London School of Economics, "By reaffirming what has long been British, European and, indeed, American policy -- which is that Israel has no business building settlements in east Jerusalem -- Cook may have also laid the basis for building a new coalition against (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein when the time comes. As, indeed, it certainly will."

Others said that the countries of the Middle East may be encouraged by the call for Israel to leave Lebanon. The thinking is that the Arab countries are not likely to support forcing Iraq to comply with some U.N. resolutions while Israel is free to disregard others.

Also in the Mideast Wednesday was U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who toured two camps in Jordan, where 2 million Palestinian refugees are staying, before flying to Cairo.

"The mediator for the Palestinian-Israeli issue is the United States," Annan said, "and I support very fully their efforts and I encourage the parties to work energetically and constructively with them in search of a durable peace."

Annan will also visit Syria, the Palestinian territories and Israel.

Correspondent Jim Clancy and Reuters contributed to this report.

Struggle For Peace

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