THE comment of a senior Brussels diplomat which I quoted here yesterday proved to be correct: "I can't image that Kofi Annan would travel to Brussels to hear only what has already been said in New York." In the event Mr Annan heard that European Union members had agreed to provide the backbone of the UN's peacekeeping force in Lebanon. This commitment had been in doubt for as long as France held back on its initial promise to provide 2-3'000 troops but President Chirac's confirmation of this number late on Thursday clarified his country's position. There will long be speculation about what led France to delay this clarification and many will suppose that it was Italy's offer of 3'000 troops and claim to leadership of the force that energised the French. The compromise reached is that France will be in charge on the ground with Italy representing the force at UN headquarters in New York; the responsibilities will be swapped in six month periods. Although it was irritating to hear President Bush barracking from the sidelines yesterday he did make an important point when he said: "It is time for the EU to fulfil its role as a global player that our citizens expect." Many people who want to see a viable EU force able to play an independent role in world affairs will hope that the agreement reached yesterday in Brussels may prove to be an important first step towards that goal.
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