President Bush Sticks with Mideast Strategy in Public

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Since Sunday's Israeli airstrike on the Lebanese town of Qana, President Bush has addressed the conflict during every public appearance, including unrelated events like his tour of Florida. His position on how to resolve the crisis does not appear to be changing.

DON GONYEA, host:

Since Sunday's Israeli air strike on the Lebanese town of Qana, President Bush has spoken several times, publicly, about the conflict. But in those statements, his position on how to resolve the crisis did not seem to change.

NPR's David Greene traveled with the president in southern Florida and has this report.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

You could see the White House P.R. strategy unfolding. In the wake of the attack on Qana, the plan was to make sure that if President Bush appeared in public, he addressed the situation. And if he couldn't, well, better not to be in public. Mr. Bush went out for dinner Sunday in Miami with Andy Garcia and former Miami Dolphin's great, Dan Marino. Sharing stone crabs with an actor and football star may not have been the best moment for the president to talk about Middle East violence, so the White House made a game time decisions to keep cameras and reporters out of the room.

Yesterday, the president went to breakfast at the Versailles Restaurant and Bakery in Little Havana. The place specializes in pastries and cigars. This time the cameras were clicking.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: It's an honor to be here at one of Miami's most famous restaurant. My brother, Jeb, suggested we come here and have some coffee with some of south Florida's leading entrepreneurs.

GREENE: Over breakfast, Mr. Bush said his assembled group talked about healthcare, the unemployment rate, Cuba...

President BUSH: And, by the way, we also talked about the situation in the Middle East, and I assured the people here that we will work toward a plan in the United Nations Security Council that addresses the root causes of the problem.

GREENE: A bit later, the president made his way to a Coast Guard facility where he was scheduled to deliver remarks on the economy.

President BUSH: I'll start by telling you I'm monitoring the situation in the Middle East very closely.

GREENE: And that was essentially the message the White House wanted to get across. He was in Florida to visit the National Hurricane Center, tour the Port of Miami, raise money for his party, and talk about the economy. But the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict could never be far from his thoughts if he was bringing it up at every public appearance. Still, if the president was talking about the conflict with greater regularity, his position on how to resolve it remained basically the same.

At the top of that economic speech, he said Israel is acting in self-defense after unprovoked terrorist attacks by Hezbollah. He repeated that an immediate ceasefire may not be the best solution and that taking time to find a lasting peace is consistent with his broader vision for the Middle East.

President BUSH: As we saw on September the 11th, the status quo in the Middle East led to death and destruction in the United States, and it had to change. So America is opposing the forces of terror and promoting the cause of democracy across the broader Middle East. This task is long. It is difficult work, but it is necessary work.

(Sound bite of applause)

GREENE: Then he got back to his script.

President BUSH: It's an honor to be here at the largest container port in Florida and one of the most important ports in our nation.

GREENE: It was back to his speech on the economy.

David Greene, NPR News, Washington.

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