Rice: No 'False Promises' in Middle East

Ahead of a weekend trip to the Mideast, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says a quick cease-fire would amount to a "false promise." She says she'll talk to Middle East leaders — but not Hezbollah or Syria. Rice says Syria "knows what it needs to do and Hezbollah is the source of the problem."

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will leave on Sunday to try to find a diplomatic solution to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, fighting that's been going on for ten days now. The United Nations and many U.S. allies have called for an immediate ceasefire, but Rice says she's looking for something more lasting and ambitious.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

Secretary Rice defended her decision to wait until now to travel to the region. If she had gone immediately, she said, she would have been simply shuttling, without a clear idea of what to do. She described a ceasefire as a false hope.

Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (Secretary of State): I have no interest in diplomacy for the sake of returning Lebanon and Israel to the status quo ante. I think it would be a mistake. What we're seeing here in a sense is the birth pangs of a new Middle East and whatever we do, we have to be certain that we are pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one.

KELEMEN: Secretary Rice continued on that theme, saying extremists are trying to, in her words, strangle Lebanon's new government in its crib. Rice said she believes the root cause of the violence is Hezbollah and she said the goal of the international community should be to help Lebanon regain control of its territory so that it can't be used as a haven for terrorism. She confirmed she's been talking to U.N. officials about some sort of international force to help.

Ms. RICE: It has to be a force robust enough to do the job, to make sure that the conditions in southern Lebanon are such that the reason for the violence has been dealt with and that is that southern Lebanon is used as a platform by Hezbollah to attack Israel. That's going to take a robust force.

KELEMEN: U.S. forces, Rice said, wouldn't be a part of it. The Bush administration is counting on moderate Arab states to play key roles in the diplomacy, especially in putting pressure on Syria, which the U.S. says is backing Hezbollah. Secretary Rice will be meeting Arab officials at a conference in Rome next week and with Saudi officials here in Washington before she leaves.

Arab officials are among the most vocal in calling on Israel to stop a military campaign that is taking a heavy toll on civilians. There were more calls for a ceasefire at the United Nations today from, among others, the U.N.'s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland.

Mr. JAN EGELAND (Emergency Relief Coordinator, United Nations): The war, the terror, the attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure has to stop in Lebanon, in northern Israel, as it has to stop in Gaza. Too many children, women, elderly and other civilians have already lost their lives or are struggling to survive from their wounds.

KELEMEN: Israel's ambassador to the U.N. says his country is opening a humanitarian corridor for food, medicine and other supplies for Lebanon. Israel has been imposing an air and sea blockade and has targeted Lebanese roads and bridges in its battle to weaken Hezbollah.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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