Washington Walks a Fine Line in Middle East Conflict

Leaders at the G-8 summit issued a statement saying extremists must stop their attacks. However, a Bush administration spokesman said that did not mean the international community is calling for a cease-fire. News Analyst Cokie Roberts looks at the violence from a Washington perspective.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

World leaders at the Group of Eight Summit in Russia have issued a statement calling on Hezbollah to halt its attacks on Israel and release two captive soldiers. The statement also calls on Israel to exercise, quote, maximum restraint.

NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts joins me now. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: The Bush administration says this statement is not a call for a ceasefire.

ROBERTS: Well, that's right. There seems to be some disagreement among the countries in the G-8 who have signed onto this, whether it's a ceasefire or not. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice out on the talk shows yesterday made it clear that the U.S. doesn't really see the point in calling for a halt to hostilities without getting to what she and President Bush both called the root causes of the violence, which in their view is the Hamas-Hezbollah support by Iran and Syria.

And they want to have some opportunity to let Israel keep up the bombing until it's achieved something by way of reducing the impact of Hamas and Hezbollah and try to impose - and it may be by force - implementation of the U.N. Security Council resolution calling for disarming Hezbollah and letting the Lebanese government, of which Hezbollah is a part, actually govern.

Now, let's see how long everybody puts up with this current bombing. You're already hearing a good bit of criticism about it. And former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, on ABC yesterday, said that Secretary Rice should go to the region and try to effect peace.

MONTAGNE: Is the White House then going to be able to sustain its strong support for Israel's military action, or do you expect pressures to grow for Israel to agree to a ceasefire?

ROBERTS: Well, you are hearing these calls for restraint and the administration does say that Israel should take into account the consequences of its actions. These are all kinds of code words to say, you know, don't go overboard.

And you heard over the weekend the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner, also urging restraint, issuing something of a warning to the administration saying, don't just go in all out support of Israel here; this could be a problem throughout the region.

And I think that the administration also has a check in the question of the upcoming election, as foreign policy is likely to be the key issue in this election given the state of the Iraq War and unhappiness about it. And if there is a perception in this country that that is just spreading around the region and that the whole region is getting into worse and worse shape, that can be a political problem for this administration and particularly for Republicans running for office in November.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, turning to a domestic issue now. The Senate opens debate this week on three stem cell bills and one of them could trigger the president's first-ever veto.

ROBERTS: It's interesting, Renee, because of course this is a piece of legislation that, according to public opinion polls, is supported by more than 70 percent of the American people. And what it says is that the U.S. government should fund research on stem cells from embryos that would be discarded anyway as a result of in vitro fertilization treatments.

The president has said all along that he would veto any legislation that allowed that kind of research. Now, of course, the states have already moved ahead, passed referenda allowing that kind of research, so it is going ahead in the states. It's going ahead at private institutions.

And you've got the support of several key Republicans in the Congress -majority leader Bill Frist, pro-life activist Orrin Hatch - for the stem cell bill, but the president has insisted that he will veto it if it's passed as expected. And he does have conservative support there and the support of the Catholic bishops who are very strongly against this legislation.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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