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Annan Says Rome Conference on Middle East Must Not Fail

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he will use an upcoming ministerial meeting on the Middle East to press for a truce, and deployment of a buffer force between Israel and Lebanon.

Secretary-General Annan says it is important that foreign ministers gathering in Rome this week come up with a way to stop the hostilities between Israel and Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia. "What's important is that we leave Rome with a concrete strategy as to how we are going to deal with this and we do not walk away empty-handed, and once again dash the hopes of those who are caught in this conflict," he said.

The group gathering in Rome includes most of the major players in the Middle East, including the United States, Russia, the European Union and its major powers, as well as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. But Hezbollah's main backers, Iran and Syria, are not invited.

Secretary-General Annan says he believes both Iran and Syria have a role to play in easing regional tensions. "I would expect Iran and Syria to be part of the solution. We need to engage them. I'm in touch with both of them, and I think it is important that we get the Lebanese to come together to see what's in their own interest," he said.

Mr. Annan says any solution must involve giving Lebanon the ability to disarm Hezbollah, as called for in U.N. Security Council resolution 1559. But he emphasized that there can be no military solution, or one imposed from the outside. "Force alone will not do it. You cannot disarm Hezbollah by force. There has to be a political agreement and political understanding. There has to be an understanding among Lebanese. We need to help them come to that understanding," he said.

Mr. Annan said the plan he will put forward at the Rome conference is similar to what he suggested to the Security Council last week. That proposal calls for an immediate end to hostilities and deployment of a U.N. buffer force along the Israel-Lebanon border.

He noted however that the United States and Egypt, among others, have offered competing proposals, which envision a non-U.N. stabilization force, and said he expects the merits of those proposals will be among the main topics of discussions in Rome.