In a nationally televised address, Chirac said France will increase its deployment from an already announced 400 troops, and hopes to retain command of the force. He said the United Nations had provided the guarantees France had sought involving the mandate of the force. The announcement came as European leaders moved forward with plans for an expanded UN Peacekeeping mission, with an EU official saying it wants to see more forces in place within a week.
France, Lebanon’s former colonial ruler, cast itself as a driving force in efforts to build a lasting peace after weeks of fighting between Israel and Hizbullah. But France drew disappointment last week after announcing it would just double its 200-troop contingent, with many nations hoping it would increase its force into the thousands.
“Two extra battalions will go on to the ground to extend our numbers within UNIFIL,” as the force is called, Chirac said. “Two thousand French soldiers are thus placed under blue helmets in Lebanon,” he added, referring to the colored headgear UN Forces wear.
“These 2,000 soldiers include the 400 military personnel already present on the ground,” he added. Chirac said it was his responsibility to obtain guarantees that the force would be able to carry out its mission.
“I also asked the secretary-general of the United Nations to situate the force in conditions of optimum efficiency and security,” he said, referring to Kofi Annan.
“We obtained the necessary clarifications on the chain of command, which must be simple, coherent and reactive,” Chirac said. “I am convinced today that French soldiers can be deployed effectively.”
'It is a face-saving gesture'
France had long pressed for a clearer mandate for the beefed-up force, and led a flurry of diplomatic activity with European and other nations to help clarify the force’s rules of engagement.
“Regarding the rules of engagement, they must guarantee the force’s free movement and its ability to act when faced with a possible hostile situation,” Chirac said.
France, along with the United States, helped craft a UN Security Council resolution that allowed for an expansion of the UNIFIL force from the current 2,000 troops to up to 15,000. France’s commitment of troops has been closely watched in other countries.
Dominique Moisi, an analyst with France’s Institute for International Relations, said France had felt the “International and national outrage at the contradiction between the French promises and what the French delivered.”
“At some point, the French realized they had gone too far by doing too little,” He said. “It is a face-saving gesture,” he added, but said that France was likely to cast its change of heart as a result of talks to draw in other European troop contributors.
Foreign Minster Tzipi Livni welcomed France's decision. Livni, who is completing her European diplomatic tours, said that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will announce on the joining of between 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers to the multinational force.
EU foreign ministers are to meet Friday in Brussels to discuss the force. Pressure on the Europeans has grown because Israel has rejected offers of participation from Malaysia, Bangladesh and Indonesia - predominantly Muslim countries that do not recognize the Jewish state.
The peacekeeping force, known as the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, is expected to expand 15,000 as part of the new UN Security Council resolution. Italy said this week it is willing to command the strengthened UN Force.