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UN chief plans Mideast visit with stops in Iran, Syria

UNITED NATIONS -- UN Secretary General Kofi Annan plans to visit Israel, Lebanon, Iran, and Syria in coming days to help shore up an uneasy Lebanon cease-fire, the United Nations announced yesterday.

Annan's trip is aimed at implementing the Aug. 11 Security Council resolution 1701, which called for a truce between Israel and Hezbollah and the deployment of a United Nations force of up to 15,000 troops to help enforce it, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Formation of the new force, considered vital to solidifying the fragile truce in southern Lebanon, has proceeded slowly.

Several European nations expected to contribute troops have balked. They say they want to see clearer guidelines of how the force will operate, although suggested rules were issued last Thursday with European input.

Dujarric could not say whether Annan would be in Iran before Aug. 31, the Security Council deadline for Tehran to suspend its nuclear enrichment work. One European diplomat said that Annan had wanted to go Tehran for some time to discuss the nuclear issue and that the Lebanon war gave him a pretext.

Annan will visit Brussels tomorrow for a European foreign ministers' meeting on UN troop deployment in Lebanon and would then go to Lebanon, Israel, Syria, and Iran.

Other stops include the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, Dujarric said.

President Bush spoke to Annan about the trip and the UN peacekeeping force for about 15 minutes, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, adding that the secretary general believed progress was ``being made on assembling" the force.

Dujarric said ``the visit to Iran, as to the other places, is to make sure that all those who have an influence in the implementation of 1701 use that influence positively."

``It is clear that Iran has an influence on certain parts of Lebanese society," Dujarric said.

Iran and Syria are backers of Hezbollah, the Shi'ite Muslim organization. Western nations accuse Tehran of sending weapons to the militia through Syria as well as giving Hezbollah cash to distribute to Lebanese families whose homes were destroyed by Israel during the conflict.

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