Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Chirac: France Has Proof Of Iran's Involvement In Lebanon

Dow Jones Newswires:
French President Jacques Chirac said Wednesday Iran supplied arms and funds to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerrillas and had a measure of responsibility in the conflict. In response to a question about Iran, Chirac said, "Information that we possess proves that sophisticated arms and financing are sent by Iran, apparently via Syria, to the Hezbollah. This is a problem."

He was confirming reports that Hezbollah was using Iranian weapons in its strikes.

"Indeed, Iran has its share of responsibility in the current conflict," Chirac said. He didn't, however, specifically accuse Tehran of triggering the violence with Hezbollah's capture two weeks ago of two Israeli soldiers.

Chirac said also the North Atlantic Treaty Organization shouldn't lead a proposed international force in Lebanon, saying the alliance is seen in the region as "the armed wing of the West."

"As far as France is concerned, it is not NATO's mission to put together such a force," Chirac told the daily newspaper Le Monde, saying there were technical as well as political reasons for his stance.

"Whether we like it or not, NATO is perceived as the armed wing of the West in these regions, and as a result, in terms of image, NATO is not intended for this," he said.

Israel has suggested it would prefer a NATO-led coalition in Lebanon, not the traditional U.N. peacekeeping force that has tried but failed to bring peace to Lebanon over the last three decades.

France said earlier this week that a multinational force should be placed under U.N. authority.

Chirac insisted a ceasefire was "essential" followed by a political accord, " to be implemented after the ceasefire," before any multinational force is put in place.

"This implies that the Israeli soldiers held by Hezbollah should be freed, as should the soldiers taken hostage by Hamas," Chirac said.

France said earlier this week that a multinational force should be placed under U.N. authority. However, Chirac's interview was the first time the French position had been spelled out in detail.

He said the hoped-for political accord should be negotiated on the one hand between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah and, on the other, between the international community, Lebanon and Israel.

Chirac pledged EUR15 million in humanitarian aid for Lebanon and said France would consider leading an international force if conditions were met.

He said he didn't believe the force should have the responsibility of disarming Hezbollah, but that it was up to Lebanon. "Hezbollah, once disarmed, is set to be a political force in Lebanon," Chirac said. READ MORE

Distancing himself from the U.S. stance, Chirac reiterated the need for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East, saying Israel's bombing of a U.N. observation post in southern Lebanon showed how dire the situation was. Four peacekeepers were killed.

"We can only condemn this act, which demonstrates more than ever how urgent it is to end the fighting," Chirac said.