France is prepared to take over leadership of 15,000 UN peacekeeping troops in southern Lebanon until February, French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said.
France currently holds command of the UNIFIL force in Lebanon, which is slated to continue until February 2007 under the leadership of French General Alain Pellegrini, the minister told France 2 broadcaster on Wednesday.
"Since the beginning of this crisis it has been the French Army that forms the core of UNIFIL in Lebanon," the minister said.
Earlier on Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said France would be prepared to participate in a UN force only after the Lebanese army deploys troops there, in accord with a UN resolution passed on Friday.
Lebanese troops were preparing to make their first move into the region early on Thursday morning.
Alliot-Marie asked for clear rules and guidelines for the strengthened UN peace force, which is to be bolstered from its current 2,000 to 15,000 over the coming weeks.
Twelve European governments and several Muslim governments have offered troops, and were to meet in New York on Thursday to discuss the formation of the force.
The UN mandate for Lebanon has been "a little foggy," the minister said.
If you send troops without exact orders and a mission, and without adequate equipment, "it can become a catastrophe, also for the soldiers that we are sending", she warned.
Alliot-Marie sidestepped questions about how many troops France would be sending. For such a difficult assignment, the military should have all necessary equipment in their hands, she said.
Alliot-Marie advocated as many European and Muslim nations as possible to participate in the force.
Belgium, Germany, France, Britain, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the Czech Republic Wednesday made clear they would send troops, at a European Union (EU) meeting in Brussels.