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US spars with council partners over UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon

Annual renewal of UNIFIL is normally uneventful, but Trump is pushing to bolster force's authority against arms movements by Hezbollah
US Ambassador to UN Nikki Haley wants to change mission of peacekeeping troops in Lebanon (Reuters)

The United States is wrestling with its Security Council partners over renewing the UN peacekeeping mission mandate in Lebanon, with Washington urging that it should be strengthened, against the positions of Paris and Moscow.

Annual renewal of the mission's mandate, which expires at the end of August, is normally uneventful - but the Donald Trump administration this year is pushing to bolster the force's authority against arms movements by Hezbollah, the Shia political party and militia.

"The Security Council cannot adopt a business-as-usual approach when so much is at stake," said US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in a statement on Wednesday, released as closed-door UN Security Council consultations on the topic wrapped up. 

"We call on the members of the Security Council to join us in taking real action to make UNIFIL a stronger peacekeeping mission and to stand up against forces of terror in Lebanon and around the region," she said, using the acronym for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon.

"Hezbollah openly boasts about its illegal stockpile of weapons and publicly threatens" Israel, she added.

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But France said on Wednesday it wants the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon to stick to its current mandate.

Anne Gueguen, France's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, told reporters her government saw no need to change the 2006 Security Council resolution that sets the mission's current mandate.

"We want to keep the mandate as such," she said.

Gueguen spoke before the talks on whether to extend the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon for another year. 

After the talks, Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said his government also saw no need to change the mandate for the force, a position he said was shared by many at the session.

"We think this mandate should be renewed in the present form," he said.  

Set up in 1978, UNIFIL was beefed up after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, charged with guaranteeing a ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal from a demilitarised zone on the Israeli-Lebanese border. It now has 10,500 troops on the ground monitoring the ceasefire and helping the Lebanese government secure its borders.

"We are for a reaffirmation of its mandate and the optimal effectiveness of its mission," the French diplomat said.

France, which contributes 800 troops to UNIFIL, plans to submit a resolution extending the force's mandate for another year, Gueguen said.

"UNIFIL plays a decisive role to stabilise the south of Lebanon in a very difficult original context and it has demonstrated a stabilising effect in the volatile, complex and troubled environment," she said. 

In a letter to the Security Council on 4 August, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he wanted to look at ways to improve UNIFIL's efforts "regarding the illegal presence of armed personnel, weapons or infrastructure inside its area of operations".

A Security Council vote on renewing UNIFIL's mandate is expected on 30 August.