Bush Meets With Blair, Dispatches Rice to Middle East

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair call for a multinational peace-keeping force in the Middle East as they meet at the White House. President Bush says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will head back to the region Saturday to work for lasting stability. However, the president says he's still not calling for an immediate Middle East cease-fire.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

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

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Intense fighting continued today between Israel and Hezbollah. President Bush met with his closest ally on the world stage, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the two men said that they were working on a plan to halt the violence. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is returning to the region. We'll report on the push for an international stabilization force in a few minutes.

First, NPR's David Greene was at the White House.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

First thing first, President Bush had to deal with his brief lunchtime chat with Tony Blair two weeks ago in Russia. That's when he uttered an expletive to describe Syria's support of Hezbollah.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: You know we've got a close relationship. You tell me what you think. You share with me your perspective. And you let me know when the microphone is on.

GREENE: The leaders then got serious and insisted they are a united front when it comes to Israel and Hezbollah. In their language, at least, they seem to be just that. Mr. Bush has been giving Israel time to continue its offensive, arguing that there should be no cease-fire without certain conditions. And the prime minister lent his support to the president's position, citing a goal beyond stopping the fighting.

Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (Great Britain): But that we take this opportunity, since we know why this has occurred, we know what started it, we know what the underlying forces are behind what has happened in the past few weeks, we take this opportunity to set out and achieve a different strategic direction for the whole of that region.

GREENE: Blair has been pressured at home and in Europe to tell President Bush the conflict must end now, and Mr. Bush did join Blair in endorsing one immediate action, dispatching Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice back to the region this weekend.

President BUSH: Her instructions are to work with Israel and Lebanon to get a, to come up with an acceptable U.N. Security Council resolution that we can table next week.

GREENE: Both leaders stressed that the current Israeli-Hezbollah conflict is no aberration, that whenever there are moves towards democracy in the Middle East, terrorist groups try to stop it.

President BUSH: Isn't it interesting that when Prime Minister Olmert starts to reach out to President Abbas to develop a Palestinian state, militant Hamas creates the conditions so that, you know, there's crisis? And then Hezbollah follows up. Isn't it interesting, as a democracy takes hold in Iraq, that al-Qaida steps up its efforts to murder and bomb in order to stop the democracy?

GREENE: What Mr. Bush failed to mention, of course, is that Hamas was democratically elected and many fighters in Iraq are Iraqis, not outsiders like al-Qaida. But this vision of promoting democracy in the Middle East is the bond that's brought this unlikely pair so close together since 9/11. Blair has suffered politically because of the friendship, but he said today they must stick to their guns.

Prime Minister BLAIR: And one of the things we've got to stop doing is stop apologizing for our own positions. Muslims in America, as far as I'm aware of, are free to worship. Muslims in Britain are free to worship. We have plural societies. It's nonsense. The propaganda is nonsense and we're not going to defeat this ideology until we in the West go out with sufficient confidence in our own position and say this is wrong. It's not just wrong in its methods, it's wrong in its ideas, it's wrong in its ideology. It's wrong in every single wretched reactionary thing about it.

GREENE: Both leaders continue to invest personal capital in solving the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, but there are plenty of unanswered questions. Will the U.S. and Britain actually engage Hezbollah, Syria and Iran diplomatically? And what would an international peacekeeping force look like in southern Lebanon. That, Mr. Bush said, will be discussed at the U.N. Monday.

President BUSH: You know what it looks like? If I follow the press conference on Tuesday, I'll be able to answer that better. But since I probably won't be, read your newspaper.

GREENE: In other words, details yet to come.

David Greene, NPR News, the White House.

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