|Bush and Blair resist pressure for immediate cease-fire, insist on waiting for right 'conditions'
|US President George W. Bush and British Premier Tony Blair shrugged off pressure Friday for a cease-fire in Lebanon, saying they want an international force dispatched but arguing that any plan to end the fighting must address long-running regional disputes to be effective.
Speaking in a joint news conference, Bush said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would return to the Middle East Saturday, adding that a multinational force should be deployed "quickly" in Lebanon.
"We share the same urgency to stop the violence," said Bush, with Blair at his side in the White House East Room.
"We want to see it happen as quickly as possible but the conditions have to be in place to allow it to happen," Blair said.
Bush said he and Blair agreed that an international force for Southern Lebanon should help facilitate shipments of humanitarian aid.
Bush and Blair met against a backdrop of attacks between Israel and Hizbullah that have killed hundreds of civilians in Lebanon and mor than a dozen in Israel. Arab leaders and European countries have called for an immediate cease-fire.
"We agree that a multinational force must be dispatched to Lebanon quickly to augment the Lebanese Army as it moves to the South," Bush said. "An effective multinational force will help speed delivery of humanitarian relief, facilitate the return of displaced persons and support the Lebanese government as it asserts full sovereignty over its territory and guards its borders."
Bush said Rice would make her second visit to the Middle East on Saturday.
"Tomorrow, Secretary Rice will return to the region. She will work with the leaders of Israel and Lebanon to seize this opportunity to achieve lasting peace and stability for both of their countries," Bush said.
"Her instructions are to work with Israel and Lebanon to come up with an acceptable UN Security Council resolution that we can table next week," he said.
A senior State Department official with Rice in Kuala Lumpur, where she has been attending Southeast Asia's top security forum, said she would return to Jerusalem on Saturday.
There was no word on whether she would make any other stops before returning to Washington. "She will go where she needs to go to get progress," the US official said, adding: "This thing is evolving hour by hour."
It is Rice's second trip in less than a week to the region, which began with a surprise visit last Monday to bombed-out Beirut, followed by a diplomatic shuttle to Israel.
"We hope to achieve an early end to this violence," Rice said in Malaysia earlier Friday. "That means we have to help the parties establish conditions that will make it possible for an early cease-fire," Rice added.
US officials said there was still a lot of work to do to get the two sides to sign on to conditions for a cease-fire. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch and senior White House official Elliott Abrams have been in Israel working on a "political framework" for a deal, said one senior official.
Issues on the table include the release of captured Israeli soldiers, creation of an international force on the border region between Southern Lebanon and Israel, a prisoner exchange, and the disarming of Hizbullah.
Blair said he and Bush agreed a UN resolution is needed as soon as possible to stop hostilities in Lebanon.
Blair said it was important not only to get a cessation of violence but to use the opportunity to set out and achieve a "different strategic direction for the whole of that region."
"We've got to deal with the immediate situation" but also realize the violence in recent weeks is part of a bigger picture that must be addressed, Blair said, adding world powers would meet at the United Nations Monday to discuss the possible deployment of a UN "stabilization force" for Lebanon.
UN chief Kofi Annan is expected to chair Monday's meeting, according to UN and diplomatic sources. The goal is to begin discussions on the type of force to be deployed, its goals and rules of engagement.
Rice flew to Malaysia for the ASEAN Regional Forum, a gathering of Southeast Asian nations and key security partners including the US, Russia and China, after a tour of Beirut, Jerusalem, the West Bank and a crisis meeting in Rome Wednesday.
The Rome conference gathered 15 nations but failed to produce a call for an immediate cease-fire, adding support to the US and British position that there must first be a sustainable solution to the conflict.
The Daily Star