Bush Blames Hezbollah for the Mideast Conflict
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
President Bush discussed the cease-fire in southern Lebanon today with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. This afternoon, he spoke with reporters. Most of the president's public remarks were not so much about the cease-fire, but about responsibility for the fighting, which he attributed entirely to Hezbollah and its sponsors, Iran and Syria.
NPR's White House correspondent David Greene reports.
DAVID GREENE reporting:
President Bush said today that he hopes the cease-fire holds and that Lebanon finally sees peace. But he didn't sound at all like a peace negotiator celebrating an achievement. Instead, in a session with reporters at the State Department, he sounded like a wartime leader in full conflict mode.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Hezbollah attacked Israel. Hezbollah started a crisis. And Hezbollah suffered a defeat in this crisis.
GREENE: Mr. Bush said Hezbollah and what he described as its state sponsors, Iran and Syria, are responsible for all the killing in Israel and in Lebanon.
President BUSH: What's really interesting is a mindset, there's the mindset of this crisis. Israel, when they aimed at a target and killed innocent citizens were upset. Society was aggrieved. When Hezbollah's rockets killed innocent Israelis, they celebrated. I think when people really take a look at the type of mentality that celebrates the loss of innocent life, they'll reject that type of mentality.
GREENE: The president said confidently that Hezbollah will be replaced by Lebanese forces and international peace keepers in southern Lebanon. But given Hezbollah's roots and influence in the area, that's no sure thing, and Mr. Bush acknowledged it will take some time. And during that time, if Hezbollah fires at a single Israeli soldier, Mr. Bush said, Israel has a right to respond. He didn't set any limit on what the Israelis can do when provoked.
If the debate at the United Nations over a cease-fire resolution was fraught with caution and diplomatic nuance, Mr. Bush depicted the crisis in stark black and white.
President BUSH: The conflict in Lebanon is part of a broader struggle between freedom and terror that is unfolding across the region.
GREENE: He said Lebanon is now a third front in what he calls the war on terror, in addition to Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr. Bush brought up his critics, who suggest that his push to spread democracy in the Middle East has actually led to more violence. He insisted those critics are wrong.
Mr. BUSH: We didn't talk much about freedom or the freedom agenda in the Middle East before September 11, 2001. Or before al-Qaida first attacked the World Trade Center and blew up our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in the 1990s. Or before Hezbollah killed hundreds of Americans in Beirut and Islamic radicals held American hostages in Iran in the 1980s. History's clear. The freedom agenda did not create the terrorists or the ideology, but the freedom agenda will help defeat them both.
GREENE: Mr. Bush was also asked if al-Qaida had a hand in the terrorist plot to take down jetliners that was foiled by the British government last week. The president said it looked like something al-Qaida would do, but that his government was still seeking absolute proof al-Qaida was involved.
David Greene, NPR News, the White House.