Deeply troubled by the spiralling violence and the "appalling" humanitarian situation in the Middle East, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today suggested that sending an international force to the region was one way to ensure safety and provide an opening for diplomatic moves.
"I think the proposition that a force should be sent in there to create a secure environment, as well as provide space for diplomatic and political negotiations, can no longer be deferred," the Secretary-General said during a press encounter in Geneva. "It is urgent; it is imperative. That capacity exists in the world today, we must now muster the will."
Elaborating on the concept later in the day, Mr. Annan said he was talking about a force that would help create conditions to allow assistance to reach those in need, to enable an end to the killing and to give the space for political and diplomatic talks. He also noted that he was not talking about a buffer zone.
In New York, the UN Security Council held closed-door consultations on the situation in the Middle East, in part to discuss the Secretary-General's comments on the force idea and to hear a briefing on it from the UN Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast.
A spokesman for Mr. Annan told reporters at UN Headquarters that the Secretary-General was floating the concept of deploying a multinational force, not a UN force.
"He's hoping that the Council will keep in mind the experience of Bosnia, where the carnage was allowed to carry on for years before a meaningful international fighting force was put in place," spokesman Fred Eckhard told a press briefing. "So he wants a force that's strong enough not to be challenged, and one that can secure the environment so that negotiations can be conducted and the Palestinian Authority can rebuild its capacity to govern."
The parties, Mr. Eckhard noted, would have to cooperate with the deployment of such a force. "The Secretary-General does not have in mind a force that would go in over the objections of one of the parties," he said. "In his judgment, an observer mission would not be up to the task, given how far the situation in the area has deteriorated."
The idea for the force was currently "only just a concept," Mr. Eckhard stressed, noting that the Secretary-General did not yet have concrete plans concerning the composition of the force, "except that it should be a multinational, and not a UN, force."
A multinational force, Mr. Eckhard explained, "can be assembled quickly and deployed quickly; a UN force takes too long given the gravity of the situation that the Secretary-General is asking that we deal with immediately and effectively."