Bush Pays Visit to German Chancellor's Home Province

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President Bush is in northern Germany, meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel in the province where she grew up. The leaders touched on several topics at a news conference Thursday, including tensions between Israel and Lebanon.


President Bush condemned Hezbollah today. The president spoke in Germany. He's meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel. During a joint news conference President Bush said the Hezbollah attacks are an attempt to disrupt the so-called roadmap to peace with calls for an independent Palestinian state.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: It's really sad where are people are willing to take innocent life in order to stop that progress. Matter of fact, it's pathetic. And having said that, Israel has a right to defend herself. Every nation must defend herself against terrorist attacks and the killing of innocent life. It's a necessary part of the 21st century.

BRAND: I'm joined now by NPR's Don Gonyea, who's traveling with the president in Germany. And Don, the White House reaction to this violence in Lebanon singles out two other nations, Iran and Syria. What's the president saying about those two?

DON GONYEA reporting:

Well, he's really putting a great deal of blame on those two countries and that's really probably the main point here. Iran of course is already embroiled in another controversy with the U.S. and with the European Union, that being over its nuclear program and the efforts under way to try to get them to back away from that. Syria has long been singled out by the U.S. as a state sponsor of terror. And this reaction from the president today grows out of that assessment. The president says each of these countries have provided aid and other assistance to Hezbollah, and that's a major reason why we're seeing the kind of attacks that we're seeing this week.

BRAND: And what did the president say about Israel?

GONYEA: You know he said that - well, both he and Chancellor Merkel responded to questions about Israel and how Israel has responded with its own counter-attacks. And their answers were not exactly the same. As for President Bush, he gave full backing to Israel and he added that people need to protect themselves, that there are terrorists who will blow up innocent people in order to achieve tactical objectives and he said Israel again has the right to respond, as they have.

Chancellor Merkel's answer was a bit different. She said that while we have to remind everybody how this escalation started, and she said it was with the kidnapping - that was her word - of a soldier, that she said we can only urge all parties, this is a quote, appeal to all parties to stop, to cease violence, and also to release the soldier and to stop firing missiles at Israeli territory. And she said she'd like to appeal to the powers in the region to see to it that there is no further escalation.

BRAND: And Don, the democracy in Lebanon is quite fragile. Did the president say anything about that and what this violence could mean for the government there?

GONYEA: At one point in this press conference the president said his biggest concern is whether or not action is being taken by Israel will weaken the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Siniora's government. He said democracy in Lebanon is an important of laying a foundation for peace in that region, and he does not want to see any, any destabilization there.

BRAND: And on another topic, last time the president and the chancellor met she brought up her concerns about the detainees at Guantanamo. Did she bring that up again this time?

GONYEA: It did not come up at the press conference, but we did expect it to come up, and we assume it has come up over the course of their talks today. And the White House perhaps announcing this week that it abides by the Geneva Conventions, maybe that was in part in anticipation of it coming up. But the president's answer has been the Supreme Court has now ruled on this and that the U.S. will work with Congress to figure out a way forward.

BRAND: NPR White House Correspondent Don Gonyea traveling with the president in Germany. Thank you Don.

GONYEA: Thank you.

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