The pace of Middle East diplomacy is quickening at the United Nations as the toll of war mounts in Israel and Lebanon. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is coming to New York for urgent consultations.
U.N. and State Department officials confirmed that Secretary of State Rice will visit New York Thursday for high-level talks on the crisis in the Middle East. U.N. Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown says Rice's meeting with Secretary-General Annan over dinner Thursday is aimed at forging a common position. "At this point we're trying to, A) sort of get everybody on same page about the facts of what's happening in this very confusing situation, and also of course to see to what extent there's a common international position, because there is no doubt that the ability of the international community to influence these extremely dangerous events in the region will be enormously helped if everybody is as close to each other as possible in terms of messages they are delivering to leaders in the region," he said.
In addition to the high-level meetings, Secretary-General Annan will brief the Security Council Thursday on the findings of a high-level diplomatic mission he sent to the region. But the mission is returning without visiting one of its key destinations, Syria.
Syrian authorities refused to see one member of the mission, Mr. Annan's special adviser on Syria-Lebanon issues, Terje Roed-Larsen.
Syria's U.N. ambassador Wednesday said Mr. Roed-Larsen was not welcome because of his insistence that Syria comply with Security Council Resolution 1559, which demands the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon.
Malloch Brown says Mr. Annan avoided a confrontation with Syrian officials by summoning the mission back to New York to attend Thursday's Security Council session. "The mission did plan to go to Syria. One of the issues we would have had to grapple with is what to do about Roed-Larsen, given what the Syrian Ambassador has told you, and indeed what we knew. The issue became moot, because the secretary-general decided that he wanted them back here to brief him and the Council. But I am not telling (you) there wasn't an issue," he said.
Malloch Brown told reporters the secretary-general is seeking an immediate end to hostilities and what U.N. officials refer to as an "enhanced stabilization force" to calm regional tensions.
The idea of creating a robust international force has strong support in many European capitals. France holds the Security Council presidency for July, and its U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, informally proposed the force this week. "It's an interesting idea. It's a good idea, an idea which could be linked with the necessity for the Government of Lebanon to extend its authority over the whole of Lebanon," he said.
But Washington has reacted coolly to the concept of an international force. Ambassador John Bolton says Washington is taking a wait-and-see attitude. "The situation is evolving day by day, and I think it's important that we get the briefing tomorrow and we'll see, number one, what the appropriate vehicle is, and number two, what the appropriate timing is," he said.
Thursday's flurry of diplomatic activity will be followed by an open debate on Middle East issues in the Security Council on Friday.