France: U.S. Gave Israel Six Months to Freeze Settlements

French FM tells Lebanese officials U.S. is standing firm on demand Israel freeze settlement construction.

The United States has given Israel a six-month deadline to accede to its demand to freeze all construction in West Bank settlements, France's foreign minister told his Lebanese interlocutors during an official visit to Beirut.

Israel Radio cited a report which appeared Saturday in the Lebanese daily newspaper an-Nahar.

According to the report, Bernard Kouchner told Lebanese officials that the U.S. could extend the six-month deadline, though Washington will not provide sponsorship to a renewed peace process if Jerusalem continues settlement construction.

On Friday, Kouchner held talks with a Hezbollah legislator in the latest European outreach to the Iranian-backed militant group.

The European Union and Britain have also sought to engage Lebanon's Hezbollah in recent months to encourage the group to abandon violence and play a constructive political role in the deeply divided country. The U.S., however, shuns the group, which it considers a terrorist organization.

Hezbollah suffered a setback in Lebanon's June 7 parliamentary election at the hands of a Western-backed coalition that held onto a majority in the legislature.

The prime minister-designate, Saad Hariri, however, is trying to form a government that could include Hezbollah and its partners, though some of Hariri's allies are vowing to strip Hezbollah of the veto power it had in the outgoing government.

Hezbollah had negotiated the power to veto government decisions after Shi'ite gunmen overran Sunni neighborhoods in Beirut in May 2008.

Kouchner discussed the efforts to form a new government in his meeting with Hezbollah lawmaker Nawaf Musawi and in separate meetings with senior Lebanese officials.

Kouchner defended his meeting with Hezbollah, which fought the 2006 Second Lebanon War with Israel and is armed and trained by Iran.

"Hezbollah is part of the parties that participated in the recent parliamentary elections. It is natural to meet with its representatives," Kouchner told reporters.

Last month, the European Union's foreign affairs chief, Javier Solana, held talks in Beirut with another Hezbollah legislator in the first meeting between a senior EU diplomat and an official of the militant group.

On Thursday, visiting British lawmakers met with the head of Hezbollah's 12-member bloc in parliament, Mohammed Raad.

Britain's Foreign Office announced in March that it has contacted Hezbollah's political wing in an attempt to reach out to its legislators. It said its ultimate aim is to encourage the militant group to turn away from violence and become a positive force in Lebanon's politics.

During Friday's meeting, Musawi said he briefed Kouchner on what he said were Israel's almost daily military flights over Lebanon in breach of a UN resolution that ended the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.

He also spoke of the alleged Israeli spy networks in Lebanon. Lebanese authorities have reportedly arrested about 100 people suspected of spying for or collaborating with Israel in recent weeks.

Kouchner was to visit neighboring Syria on Saturday.