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Mideast Distracts Bush, G-8 Summit Members
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Mideast Distracts Bush, G-8 Summit Members

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Mideast Distracts Bush, G-8 Summit Members

Mideast Distracts Bush, G-8 Summit Members
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The agenda for the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg has been overtaken by concern over the violence between Israel and Lebanon. President Bush meets Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

President Bush is in St. Petersburg, Russia, for this weekend's G8 summit. He arrived a little ahead of the other leaders, because the president is due to hold formal and informal meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the agenda for their talks and for the G8 summit itself, has been overshadowed by the events in the Middle East. NPR's Don Gonyea is traveling with the president and joins me from St. Petersburg. Don, tell us about the president's day, today. What has he done?

DON GONYEA reporting:

Well, he had an official and mostly ceremonial schedule here in St. Petersburg, including a casual dinner with Putin himself. But clearly, what the president and his top aides were working intensely on here, are the events in the Middle East. The president himself, as he flew to Russia, he made a number of phone calls aboard Air Force One. He called Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. He called King Abdullah in Jordan, and both of them expressed the need to really do what they can to get the situation under control. So the president was positive about that.

Also, he called Lebanon's Prime Minister Seniora, to express U.S. support for his government, already a fragile government even before this week's events. But Tony Snow, the president's press secretary, today, did say the president has no immediate plans to himself talk to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. But Snow did go on to say that if the situation warrants it, that that could change.

We are also told though, that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did make a lot of calls today, including one to Olmert, and that there is really serious dialogue between top officials - between the U.S. and Israel - that is going on, even if it hasn't taken place at the presidential/prime ministerial level.

BLOCK: And at least publicly, what is the White House saying about the situation in the Middle East and what should happen there?

GONYEA: You know, publicly they are still urging Israel to show restraint in its military response. The White House also says repeatedly that its very important to remember that this all began with aggression by Hezbollah; that Hezbollah was not acting under any authority of the Lebanese government and that Israel has the right to defend itself.

Now all that said, there were other things. As to reports that Lebanon's leader says Mr. Bush, in their conversation, pledged to try to rein in Israel. Well Tony Snow, the press secretary, again, says bluntly that the president is not going to make military decisions for Israel, and Snow noted that the Lebanese prime minister told the president that he really wants there to be a ceasefire. The White House's view on that, again, as Snow put it, is it's unlikely that either or both parties are going to agree to that at this particular juncture, although obviously the White House hopes that that will eventually happen.

And just quickly, the White House does seem to be looking for positive signs where it can, even though this is obviously a very serious and dangerous situation. And the White House says it has heard encouraging things from the Saudis and from Egypt, including a Saudi statement that makes the point of really separating Hezbollah's actions from the Lebanese government.

BLOCK: Now, Russia is hosting the G8 summit and the president has these meetings, that we mentioned, with President Putin, tomorrow. Are the two leaders in agreement on the Middle East?

Mr. GONYEA: On the broad question of wanting an end to violence, yes, they are. But Putin has made comments very critical of Israel's response to the Hezbollah attacks, and that's a pattern that holds on the other current big international disputes that are hanging over this meeting as well. On Iran they both say Iran should not have nuclear weapons, but the White House is taking a much harder line. Russia does not support sanctions at this point. Same on North Korea. Both have been critical of those missile tests of the last week or so, but again Russia has not yet backed sanctions, and thinks engagement is the way to go.

BLOCK: Don, thanks very much.

Mr. GONYEA: All right. My pleasure.

BLOCK: NPR's Don Gonyea in St. Petersburg for the G8 summit.

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