Rice Seeks Sustainable End to Israel-Hezbollah Conflict

By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – After more than three weeks of the “terrible” and “tragic” military conflict between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, it is the international community’s responsibility to bring about a cessation of hostilities that will not allow Hezbollah to regroup and pose the threat of triggering another war, according to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Speaking to CNN August 3, Rice dismissed criticism that the United States has stood in the way of a cease-fire.

“[W]e've never opposed a cease-fire.  We wanted a cease-fire.  We've always wanted one urgently,” she said.  “But what we've opposed is anything that's somehow unconditional, that does not make clear that there are certain circumstances that are going to have to obtain - some of them immediately, some of them over a longer period of time - in order not to have a return to the status quo ante and just a cease-fire that, like so many cease-fires in the Middle East, falls apart practically the minute that it's in place.”

Rice said it is important to achieve a solution that allows the Lebanese government to extend its sovereign control over the entire country.  She said U.S. and French diplomats at the U.N. Security Council are close to completing a resolution that would be applied in phases.

“[It] will permit first an end or stoppage of the hostilities,” she said.  “And based on the establishment of some very important principles for how we move forward, it's obviously going to take the parties some time to come to a full understanding of how they might live in peace.  But we want at the very beginning for there to be elements, for there to be principles so that everybody knows the basis on which the hostilities are stopping.”

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told CNN in a separate interview August 4 that he expects to see a resolution emerge from the Security Council early in the week of August 7.

“The United States wants to put an end to this fighting.  We want it to happen as soon as that is humanly possible and we're putting a lot of effort into that at the United Nations right now,” he said.

Rice rejected the idea that the United States is taking sides in the conflict.  “[I]t's not as if we're on one side or the other here.  We're on the side of certain principles, certain kinds of behavior that [we] really believe will lead to a peace for both the Lebanese people and for the Israeli people,” she said.

The secretary said the United States considers both the Lebanese and Israelis friends and added, “our friends here unfortunately are in a conflict.”  She went on to point out, however, that it was neither Lebanon nor Israel that started the conflict, but rather Hezbollah, acting independently of the Lebanese government.  She said there are “some very good people” in the Lebanese government who want to extend state authority and disarm Hezbollah.

Rice recalled the United States’ past support for Lebanon in helping the country rid itself of Syrian forces and reclaim its sovereignty.

“And now the answer to how Lebanon remains sovereign, how we don't have incidents like we just had that plunged … the area into war is that we have to extend the sovereignty, extend the authority of the Lebanese government throughout the country, get Lebanese armed forces into the south where they belong, and to make sure that these armed groups are not operating outside of the authority of the Lebanese government,” she said.

Rice said Hezbollah has both a political wing, with seats in the Lebanese government, and a military wing.  She called it “unfortunate” that the political wing did not prevent the military wing from launching the July 12 attack on northern Israel that sparked the current hostilities.  She said Hezbollah would have to reconcile the conflict between its political aspirations and its terrorist actions.

The secretary also denounced the most recent threats from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to strike Tel Aviv, Israel, in response to Israeli attacks on Beirut, Lebanon.

“The international community needs to say to Hezbollah that these kinds of threats are also not helpful in a time when the international community, the Lebanese people, the Israeli people all want an end to the hostility,” she said.

Hezbollah is not involved in discussions aimed at achieving a cease-fire.  Under Secretary Burns said the United States is depending on Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora to work out the Lebanese end of any agreement.

In a separate interview on Fox News, Rice spoke about Iranian support for Hezbollah and said it is important for all to recognize that the current conflict is the sort of instability that Iran’s foreign policy deliberately creates.

“I think we also have to be very clear that Iranian influence cannot be allowed to spread in the region,” she said.

Transcripts of Rice’s interviews with CNN and with Fox News are available on the State Department Web site.