AP Diplomatic Writer
Rice Outlines Strategy for Lebanon Peace
Fri Jul 21, 2006 16:59

Rice Outlines Strategy for Lebanon Peace
Friday July 21, 2006 7:46 PM
AP Diplomatic Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ruled out a quick ``false promise'' cease-fire in the Middle East Friday and defended her decision not to meet with either Syrian or Hezbollah leaders in her upcoming visit to the region.

``Syria knows what it needs to do and Hezbollah is the source of the problem,'' Rice said at the State Department as she previewed her trip, which begins on Sunday with a first stop in Israel.

Rice said she would work with allies to help create conditions for ``stability and lasting peace.''

Asked why she didn't go earlier and engage in quick-hit diplomacy to try to end the death and destruction that has gripped both Lebanon and northern Israel, she replied, ``I could have gotten on a plane and rushed over and started shuttling and it wouldn't have been clear what I was shuttling to do.''

Hezbollah ``extremists are trying to strangle it in its crib,'' Rice said of the Lebanese government, which has been a less potent force in the fractured country than the politically savvy and well-armed Hezbollah guerrillas.

The crisis started last week when Hezbollah, an Islamic militant group that operates in southern Lebanon, captured two Israeli soldiers. Israel retaliated by carrying out bombing across Lebanon and slapping a naval blockade on the country. Hezbollah fired hundreds of missiles into Israel.

Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to Washington, told The Associated Press that Israel would not rule out an eventual international stabilization force. But he said Israel was determined to first take out Hezbollah's command and control centers and weapons stockpiles.

He described it as a ``mop up'' operation, and said that Israel had no desire to repeat its 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon that ended in 2000.

``They overplayed their hand, they miscalculated,'' Ayalon said of Hezbollah, which is supported by both Syria and Iran.

``This is a war not of our choosing,'' he said.

In her briefing for reporters on her trip, Rice said the United States was committed to ending the bloodshed, but didn't want to do it before certain conditions were met.

The United States has said all along that Hezbollah must first turn over the two Israeli soldiers and stop firing missiles into Israel.

``We do seek an end to the current violence, we seek it urgently. We also seek to address the root causes of that violence,'' she said. ``A cease-fire would be a false promise if it simply returns us to the status quo.''

Rice said that it was important to deal with the ``root cause'' of the violence, echoing what has been the U.S. position since last week.

President Bush, asked what he hopes Rice will achieve on her trip, said he would discuss it with her when he returns to the White House on Sunday. He was speaking at a restaurant in Aurora, Colo., as he met with 10 members of the military who recently returned from Iraq.

Announcing plans earlier for a Sunday meeting that Bush and Rice will have with Saudi officials, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the idea was ``to provide the president and Dr. Rice a chance to continue to strategize with a key partner in the region on a diplomatic solution that will address the root causes of violence and terror in the region.''

Bush and Rice will meet at the White House Sunday with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, chief of the Saudi National Security Council.

The plans emerged following two days of meetings in New York with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and envoys he sent to the region this week. Although Annan called Thursday for an immediate cease-fire, that is opposed by the United States. The Bush administration says the United States and the U.N. agree on the wider diplomatic goals for the region.

The United States has resisted international pressure to lean on its ally Israel to halt the fighting. Rice was likely try to point the way to a relatively quick cease-fire, but not an immediate one.

Rice was flying first to Israel, then Rome.

In Rome, she will meet with European foreign ministers, officials from Lebanon and representatives from Arab nations that have been unusually critical of Hezbollah.

Rice's mission would be the first U.S. diplomatic effort on the ground since the Israeli onslaught against Lebanon began.

Annan outlined the basic terms of a proposed cease-fire and the longer-range goals to remove the Hezbollah threat in southern Lebanon in a speech on Thursday.

Hezbollah exerts political control over southern Lebanon, overshadowing the weak democratic central government in Beirut. The U.N. and U.S. plan for long-term stability would give international help to the Beirut government to expel Hezbollah and install its own Army troops.

Israel called up reserve troops Friday and warned civilians to flee southern Lebanon as it prepared for a likely ground invasion to set up a deep buffer zone.

Dr. Condoleezza Rice
Rice expected to leave for Middle East Sunday

I will get a "Cease Fire" and will bring "Peace" to the Middle East.

"Remember me in 2008... I'll make a wonderful President!"

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