Analysis: U.S. Diplomacy Must Tackle Root of Conflict

Guest host Don Gonyea speaks with Rami Khouri, editor of The Daily Star in Beirut. Khouri was out of the country when the fighting started, and has just been able to return to Beirut.

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DON GONYEA, host:

Rami Khouri is editor-at-large of The Daily Star in Beirut, Lebanon, and a frequent guest on WEEKEND EDITION. When the fighting broke out in southern Lebanon, he was out of the country and was just able to return to Beirut yesterday, over land, from Amman, Jordan. He joins us on a cell phone. Hello, Rami.

Mr. RAMI KHOURI (Editor-at-Large, The Daily Star, Beirut, Lebanon): Hi, Don, thanks for having me.

GONYEA: What were your first impressions on returning to Beirut? And I guess include in that what it took to get there.

Mr. KHOURI: Well, getting here wasn't actually that difficult. We took a car from Amman, Jordan to Damascus, Syria, and then across the normal border cross. And then we took some circuitous mountain routes to avoid the Israeli jets bombing people in their cars. We passed a couple of trucks and buses, obviously civilian trucks and buses that were bombed to smithereens and burned on the sides of the roads. We took some mountain passes instead of going through the main highways. But then it was basically - we went at night as well. And it took us around seven hours to make the trip to Beirut instead of the usual five hours.

The strange thing is how quiet and apparently normal looking Beirut has been, in the sense of central Beirut where we live. But just two kilometers to the south, it's a wasteland where the Israelis have completely destroyed the southern suburbs, where Hezbollah had its political headquarters. And they've obviously been bombing empty buildings, because they don't seem to have hit Hezbollah's ability to keep firing missiles at Israel.

GONYEA: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaves Washington later today for the Middle East. A lot of focus has been placed on the fighting that has been taking place in Lebanon. I'm wondering if you think that's a proper perspective for looking at what Rice needs to accomplish during her trip?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, I think she has to use the Lebanon/Israel fighting situation as a springboard to address both the deeper, underlying causes of this conflict and this recurring conflict that has gone on for certainly all of my life. I mean, I've been watching this stuff here since the late 1960s. It's unbelievable. It's the same stuff going on over and over again, with people killing each other. So she has to look into the underlying causes of this recurring violence by Israel and by Lebanese, Hezbollah, and other Arabs against Israel.

But she also has to then look to the future to figure out how the U.S. can play a constructive role, as a truly honest mediator, to address these outstanding regional issues, all in a package deal, if possible, to finally bring about the peace and security and normal life that Israelis and Arabs all deserve, but are not going to get if she just comes here and tries to figure out how to make northern Israel safe.

The U.S. has done that for about five, six times in the last 20 years and all that's happened is that the U.S. has become widely alienated from the public opinion in the Arab world, has very few Arab governments it can speak to, and is simply marginalizing itself as an irrelevant player.

So I think this is a really important trip for Rice. But you know, the irony of George Bush and Condoleezza Rice is saying that Syria and Iran have to, you know, stay out of Lebanon, you know, the United States just expedited delivery of precision bombs to Israel. So what are we being told here, that it's okay for the U.S. to help Israel, but it's not okay for Arab countries to help Lebanon and Hezbollah?

We have to decide, are we dealing with a really serious diplomatic attempt to identify this problem and resolve it? Or are we dealing here with simply a new form of American/Israeli neo-colonialism, touched up with a bit of racism, as well, which gives Israeli lives more importance than Arab lives? So I think the Americans have to really think about these things much more carefully than they have in the past.

GONYEA: Rami Khouri is editor-at-large of the Daily Star in Beirut, Lebanon.

Thanks very much for joining us.

Mr. KHOURI: My pleasure.

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