FM Livni: Europe Will Send More Soldiers to UNIFIL

French President Jacques Chirac will announce France's final troop contribution by Thursday.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, following a day of talks in Paris, said she believes European states will expand their contributions to a planned international force in Lebanon.

Livni met Wednesday with her French and Belgian counterparts, Philippe Douste-Blazy and Karel De Gucht. Thursday, she will meet with Italian officials in Rome, as Italy has offered to lead the international force.

Douste-Blazy said French President Jacques Chirac would announce France's final troop contribution by Thursday, when the European Union holds an emergency meeting in Brussels to discuss contributions to the international force. Over the last few days, France has been roundly criticized for announcing that it would send only 200 additional troops, on top of the 200 French troops already serving in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). But a source in Livni's entourage said Douste-Blazy led her to understand that Chirac would announce a sizable increase in this figure by Friday.

De Gucht said his country is seriously considering sending several hundred troops, and that the Belgian cabinet would discuss the issue later this week.

Livni warned Douste-Blazy that if the international community is hesitant to commit troops, it will be hard to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the fighting. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert echoed this in a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, adding that Israel's naval and aerial blockade of Lebanon would remain in place until the international force arrives.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan also believes a solid European troop commitment is necessary to save Resolution 1701, and he therefore plans to attend tomorrow's meeting in Brussels in an effort to convince the EU of the urgency. Nevertheless, UN diplomats said they did not have high hopes for a breakthrough at the meeting.

Italy, as the leader of the planned 15,000-man force, also is expected to work hard to persuade its EU colleagues to step up to the plate. Italy has pledged up to 3,000 troops.