by MONITOR l Iran's reply to the offer of political and economic incentives from America, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia ”fell short” of what was needed in the opinion of the US State Department. The reply said that Tehran was ready for “serious talks” but could not agree to suspend its uranium enrichment programme as the five powers had asked. Security Council consideration of sanctions against Iran were likely to be the next step but both China and Russia signalled their opposition to this course. l After two weeks of unproductive negotiations, the European Union undertook to provide the backbone of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon. France eventually agreed to provide 2-3'000 troops and Italy offered 3'000. The fragile ceasefire in Lebanon was maintained despite several localised skirmishes between Israeli forces and Hezbollah militias. In Israel opinion polls showed a loss of confidence in prime minister Ehud Olmert and army reservists protested against poor military planning and lack of equipment. A report by Amnesty International said that some of Israel's military tactics amounted to “war crimes” and that, overall, the army's use of force had been “disproportionate”. l Tony Blair returned from his vacation in the Caribbean to a government under attack for failures in several areas and a Labour party disturbed by his apparent inaction over the Lebanese ceasefire. Mr Blair's problems were underlined by an opinion poll showing David Cameron's Conservatives with a nine per cent lead over Labour, sufficient at a general election for a small majority. Calls for the prime minister to name a date for his departure from Downing Street grew in intensity. l One year after Hurrican Katrina President Bush warned that rebuilding the city would take “a long time”; thousands of families are still without emergency housing. l At an inernational AIDS conference in Canada the South African government was severely criticised by the responsible UN envoy who said that its policies were “obtuse, dilatory and negligent”.