Rice Deputy Weighs In on Lebanon Fighting

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Air strikes continued in Lebanon over the weekend as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returned to Israel. Host Ed Gordon talks with Secretary Rice's deputy spokesman at the State Department, Tom Casey, about America's position and what it will take to create a lasting peace in the region.

ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

Fighting continued over the weekend between Israeli military forces and Hezbollah militants. The conflict has raged for more than two weeks. Hundreds of civilians have died and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. At the center of this crisis is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice is now pushing for a cease-fire. Some have been critical of the secretary for being too slow in calling for a stop to the attacks. She argued that the violence would resume unless measures were put in place for long-term solutions.

But what exactly would these measures be and who would enforce them? And what is the diplomatic toll that's being taken on the Bush administration?

We're joined now by her deputy spokesperson at the State Department, Tom Casey. Mr. Casey, thanks for being with us. I appreciate it.

Mr. TOM CASEY (Director, Office of Press Relations, United States Department of State): It's a pleasure being here.

GORDON: Let's talk first about the 48-hour pause that has been called for. There is question as to whether or not the pausing has in fact happened. There are reports that the Israeli Air Force carried out strikes on Monday after this cause. Can you clarify that for us?

Mr. CASEY: Well, I'll leave it to the Israelis to talk about their own military action. But I do think it's important that coming out of her meetings with Prime Minister Olmert, the secretary was in fact able to get them to agree to a 48-hour pause in aerial operations to try and do two things. First of all, to try and get civilians out of southern Lebanon who wanted to get out. And second, to be able to get humanitarian supplies in.

GORDON: There has been quite a bit of criticism lodged toward the secretary of state for being too slow in a call for cease-fire. She suggests by the end of this week we may in fact see a cease-fire and a settlement. Some believe that's too optimistic.

Mr. CASEY: Well, first of all, I think the secretary and the United States have been out in front in terms of trying to find a resolution to this situation, which was prompted by Hezbollah's attacks into Israel. But what she has done over the course of the last week working with Rome and working now in the region is developed a plan that can actually work to get not just a cease-fire, but a cease-fire and a long-term solution to the problems there and to the fighting. And what she's called for, and what we'll be working on in New York later this week, is a resolution from the Security Council not only calls for a cease-fire that acknowledges political terms of the settlement and that authorizes an international peacekeeping force that can go in and make that cease-fire and make that political solution meaningful.

GORDON: Some critics, some will say cynics, have suggested that it took the death of many civilians, the airstrike that took out upwards of 50 to 60 civilians to cause the secretary to call for a real push for the cease-fire.

Mr. CASEY: Well, I think that's incorrect. Again, if you look at before the secretary left for the region more than a week ago, she talked about the need for an urgent cease-fire and an urgent end to the violence, but acknowledged the reality, which is that can only happen if both sides have political agreement that allows you to move forward.

And she has worked very, very hard, and the rest of the administration has worked very hard to ensure that that kind of resolution occurs. And what we believe we have now, as a result of her efforts and the result of the efforts of many other people, is a general agreement on the political conditions that will allow us to move forward an agreement by the international community on implementing an international force to make sure that that agreement can be fulfilled and ultimately an agreement to ensure that Lebanon is for the Lebanese, and that the Lebanese government for the first time in its history really is going to have full sovereignty and full control over it's country.

And as much as we would have wished this would have happened earlier, this was the tough work and diplomacy that she spoke about before she left on the trip. And we've made great progress, and it's been progress made because of her leadership and the leadership of the United States.

GORDON: Before we get into the resolution that is being asked for by a number of countries in terms of the United Nations stepping in and providing the movement and guidance, let me ask you about the quagmire that I think most people assume that the Bush administration finds itself in. Many people in that region and quite frankly around the world, when seeing the deaths of women and children, have suggested that the United States did not move quick enough.

Mr. CASEY: Well, again, I think in terms of the region, the United States is working very well with many of the countries there. And we certainly have expressed our concerns and our sympathy and our condolences for the civilian loss of life that's occurred. These are tragedies. These are individual tragedies and these are tragedies for the Lebanese people as a whole. And that's why we've been working so hard to try and assure that we can have an end to the violence.

And I think it's important for people to remember as well that this is not a new problem. These are issues that have come up and violence that has continued over many, many years. And what we've been looking for and what we think we can achieve now is not just a temporary halt to the fighting, not a short-term cease-fire that will last a day or a week, but something that's going to deal with the fundamental causes that created this situation in the first place, and that's going to be something that is going to be beneficial for the people of Lebanon and the people of the region. But nobody, nobody is saying that the deaths of civilians is not a terrible thing, and nobody wishes any more than we do that it could end as soon as absolutely possible.

GORDON: Finally, Mr. Casey, let me ask you about the resolution. The secretary of state has suggested that not only will it include a cease-fire, but political components, if you will, to address the reported concerns and problems that have been sparking this fighting. Any word when we'll get more specifics?

Mr. CASEY: Well, I think you'll see more specifics come out this week, but you have some of the specifics as to what a political settlement looks like already. I mean, you have UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for helping the Lebanese government establish sovereignty throughout its territory. You have a general agreement through the (unintelligible) as to what that should look like. And you have some pretty clear understandings from the Israeli government that they will accept this kind of international force to be able to help the Lebanese government do that. And we'll be talking in greater detail about that over the coming days in New York, and I think we're going to make sure that we get out of this a good agreement and one that definitely can help resolve the problem.

GORDON: Tom Casey is the State Department's deputy spokesperson. We appreciate your time.

Mr. CASEY: Thank you.

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