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President Bush, Prime Minister Blair Seek Resolution to Enforce Mideast Peace

July 28, 2006 at 6:15 PM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: It was the prime minister’s 15th visit with President Bush in the U.S. and, like many previous ones, dominated by a Mideast crisis.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: The prime minister and I have committed our governments to a plan to make every effort to achieve a lasting peace out of this crisis. Our goal is to achieve a lasting peace, which requires that a free, democratic and independent Lebanese government be empowered to exercise full authority over its territory. We want a Lebanon free of militias and foreign interference and a Lebanon that governs its own destiny.

TONY BLAIR, Prime Minister of Britain: The purpose of what we are doing, therefore, is to bring about, yes, the cessation of hostilities — which we want to see as quickly and as urgently as possible — but also to put in place a framework that allows us to stabilize the situation for the medium and longer term.

JOURNALIST: Mr. President, you spoke of having a plan to rebuild houses in Lebanon. Wouldn’t the people of Lebanon rather know when you’re going to tell the Israelis to stop destroying houses?

And, Prime Minister, you’ve talked of having a plan today, but isn’t the truth that you and the president believe that Israel is on the right side in the war on terror, and you want them to win this war, not to stop it?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Look, we care deeply about the people whose lives have been affected in Lebanon, just like we care deeply about the people whose lives have been affected in Israel. There’s over a million people in Israel that are, you know, are threatened by this consistent rocket attack coming out of Lebanon.

And, yes, we want to help people rebuild their lives, absolutely. But we also want to address the root causes of the problem. And the root cause of the problem is you’ve got Hezbollah that is armed and willing to fire rockets into Israel, a Hezbollah, by the way, that I firmly believe is backed by Iran and encouraged by Iran.

And so, for the sake of long-term stability, we’ve got to deal with this issue now. But make no mistake about it: It is the goal and aims of the terrorist organizations to stop that type of advance. That’s what they’re trying to do; they’re trying to evoke sympathy for themselves.

They’re not sympathetic people. They’re violent, cold-blooded killers who are trying to stop the advance of freedom. And this is the calling of the 21st century, it seems like to me, and now’s the time to confront the problem.

TONY BLAIR: We can, all of us, you know, make whatever statements we want to do, use whatever words we want to do, but the brutal reality of the situation is that we’re only going to get violence stopped and stability introduced on the basis of clear principles. Now, as I said, we’ve set out a way to do this, but it requires the long term, as well as the short term.

Ideology of terrorism

Tony Blair
Prime Minister, United Kingdom
It will be a long struggle, I'm afraid, but there's no alternative but to stay the course with it, and we will.

RAY SUAREZ: An American reporter asked if the United States' influence in the Middle East as a whole had waned. Prime Minister Blair responded strongly.

TONY BLAIR: I don't think it actually has anything to do with a loss of American influence at all. I think we've got to go back and ask what changed policy, because policy has changed in the past few years.

And what changed policy was September the 11th; that changed policy. But actually, before September the 11th, this global movement with a global ideology was already in being. September the 11th was the culmination of what they wanted to do.

But, actually, you know -- and this is probably where the policymakers such as myself were truly in error is that, even before September the 11th, this was happening in all sorts of different ways in different countries. You can see this. You can see it in Kashmir, for example. You can see it in Chechnya, you know? You can see it in Palestine.

Now, what is its purpose? Its purpose is to promote its ideology based on a perversion of Islam and to use any methods at all, but particularly terrorism, to do that, because they know that the value of terrorism to them is -- as I was saying a moment or two ago, it's not simply the act of terror; it's the chain reaction that terror brings with it.

Terrorism brings the reprisal; the reprisal brings the additional hatred; the additional hatred breeds the additional terrorism; and so on. 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."

And it will be a long struggle, I'm afraid, but there's no alternative but to stay the course with it, and we will.

JOURNALIST: Will the multinational force potentially be used to effect a cease-fire or simply to police an agreement once we eventually get to that?

TONY BLAIR: This can only work if Hezbollah are prepared to allow it to work. And we've got to make sure, therefore, that we have the force go in as part of an agreement that the government of Lebanon has bound itself to, the government of Israel has bound itself to, the international community has bound itself to.

And Hezbollah have got to appreciate that, if they stand out against that, then it's not merely that they will be doing a huge disservice to the people of Lebanon, but they will also, again, face the fact that action will have to be taken against them.

E.U.'s position on the conflict

Giovanni Castellaneta
Ambassador, Italy
It's just not one-side cease-fire; it's two-part cease-fire. So until the Hezbollah continuing in attacking Israel, the Israeli territories, it's difficult to establish a cease-fire.

RAY SUAREZ: For two European perspectives, we hear from Italy's ambassador to the U.S., Giovanni Castellaneta. Italy hosted the international conference on the Middle East crisis earlier this week in Rome.

And Robin Niblett, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, he is a British citizen and has written widely on transatlantic relations.

Well, Mr. Ambassador, you heard the president of the United States put lasting peace as a priority above a cease-fire. Does this leave still a great distance between the United States and Britain on one hand and your continental European E.U. partners?

GIOVANNI CASTELLANETA, Italy's Ambassador to the U.S.: I don't think, because they are the results of the conference in Rome so we have to work to implement a framework of lasting peace, and work immediately for a cease-fire that can be sustainable and durable.

So, at the same time, they are the positive results of the conference, was to establish humanitarian corridors and, most of all, the principle of sending of an international force into a position force there. So I think that is exactly the same lead way of the result of the Rome conference.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you're talking about the accomplishments of the conference. Does that mean the Israelis have misread what that conference meant, by seeing it as giving them an opportunity to continue to prosecute their war against Hezbollah in south Lebanon?

GIOVANNI CASTELLANETA: We said to the Israeli government that their messages sent by the conference was that we are to work for a cease-fire, not a green light to continue the use of force. And, of course, we praised them when they asked the Israeli government to moderate the use of force.

But we understand that there's still -- to establish a cease-fire, you have to agree the conditions. It's just not one-side cease-fire; it's two-part cease-fire. So until the Hezbollah continuing in attacking Israel, the Israeli territories, it's difficult to establish a cease-fire.

RAY SUAREZ: Has this series of events created an opening for Europe, a possibility for Europe to become active in settling this crisis?

GIOVANNI CASTELLANETA: Sure, sure. I think that Europe, the United States, can do a great deal, great work in the Middle East, not only on Lebanon issues. When we talk of these issues, we talk on much broader regional base, not forgetting what is happening in Gaza, in Palestine. So they are to tackle all the problems. I think no United States alone, no European Union alone can solve this problem. So together they can do a lot.

Europe's role in Mideast diplomacy

Robin Niblett
Center for Strategic Int'l Studies
We have European nations stretched to provide forces for Afghanistan, the British included, who are suffering losses there right now. So the whole idea of a composition of an international force and this multinational force will take a lot of time.

RAY SUAREZ: Robin Niblett, same question. Is there a European opening here?

ROBIN NIBLETT, Center for Strategic and International Studies: I think it's difficult for Europe really to take advantage of the situation right now. One of the big discussions is about the idea of a multinational force, and clearly the hope would be that Europe would play a role there and be very difficult for the United States to send troops there.

And right now, we have European nations stretched to provide forces for Afghanistan, the British included, who are suffering losses there right now. So the whole idea of a composition of an international force and this multinational force will take a lot of time.

And if that becomes a pre-condition for being able to get to a cessation of hostilities, we're going to see an immediate roadblock potentially on the European side.

RAY SUAREZ: There's a phasing problem, too, isn't there? Don't you have to have a cessation of hostilities before European plays will be ready to put force into that area?

ROBIN NIBLETT: Absolutely. And this is where the difficulty comes: Who negotiates with whom? And I think this was perhaps apparent at the press conference today.

Who's going to negotiate for Hezbollah? I mean, the Lebanese government might say they want to accept a force plan, and the Israelis might agree to withdraw or to pull back on the extent of their attacks, but who will take action on behalf of Hezbollah?

I think it's interesting to note that the German government has been trying to do some quiet diplomacy, not only sending their foreign minister, Steinmeier, to Israel, but also doing some quiet discussions with the Syrians, as well.

So I think certain European governments, perhaps somewhat not always fully coordinated, are looking for ways to be able to inject some element of rapid progress into this. And this is the distinction with the United States and the U.K. which, at the moment, are taking a slightly slower approach.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you heard Robin Niblett's question. Who can speak to Israel? Can Italy through Iran?

GIOVANNI CASTELLANETA: Well, we have relation with Iran. Of course, Iran is a major player in the region, so you have to pass through Iran and to ask Iran to act to stop terrorism, to stop fighting. So we have (inaudible) with many countries in the region.

On Sunday, our foreign minister, D'Alema, will go to Jerusalem and talk to Israelis. Our prime minister, Prodi, talked recently to the prime minister of Lebanon. Nabih Berri, the president of the Lebanese assembly, will go to Rome shortly.

So we have a range of contacts that we are utilizing as a follow-up of the Rome conference to try to put parts together and stop this.

RAY SUAREZ: But Iran is a particularly close commercial partner with Italy, isn't it?

GIOVANNI CASTELLANETA: Yes, historically we buy a lot of oil from -- especially oil from Iran because, you know, Italy needs a lot of this energy so, yes, we have very important commercial ties. For this reason, I think we are perhaps more in a position to discuss with them and to push them to behave correctly.

RAY SUAREZ: And are you ready to send in troops, if that possibility comes?

GIOVANNI CASTELLANETA: Yes, yes. Italy said already -- Prime Minister Prodi and D'Alema said we are ready to send troops on a U.N. on Monday, the force that can help the Lebanese army to restore order and to take full sovereignty over their territory

Britain and the European Union

Robin Niblett
Center for Strategic Int'l Studies
My concern is I think, from an E.U. perspective, we do not have a solid position as yet, and certainly it isn't one that the U.K. is part of.

RAY SUAREZ: Robin Niblett, we come to a time where Britain is quite apart from its continental partners in the E.U. on how to approach this situation. What do you think of that?

ROBIN NIBLETT: Tony Blair is in a particularly difficult stage of his political career. He had to come, in a way, to the United States. He could not remain at home under the kind of assault he sustained in the British press recently.

A letter from former diplomats today saying that Britain should join Europe and the U.N. in taking a separate position to the United States. And I think he's come over here to remind almost his British audience, as much as the U.S. audience, the reasons why the U.K. is taking a longer-term approach, and one that really is quite in lockstep -- noticeably in lockstep with the president.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, help me understand that better, because you say he's under tremendous domestic pressure to join Europe, then he comes to Washington and shows that there's absolutely no daylight between him and George Bush. What is that?

ROBIN NIBLETT: Tony Blair's approach has always been to move on conviction, and he's run most of his prime ministership in contradiction, you might say, to long-held Labour Party beliefs and fighting for a middle ground in the U.K. politics that he believes is sustainable and sustains his kind of vision.

The problem is, right now, I think he's losing the middle ground. Most of the British public sense that you cannot trust Israel or you cannot trust the United States with the future of the Middle East, that, in essence, the kind of actions that they're undertaking there are spreading radicalization rather than leading to long-term and lasting peace that he and President Bush call for.

So he's trying to come over and say, "Look, no, I do understand. I have a long-term plan." Just right now it's very difficult for him to push that forward with any sort of credibility.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, is there any evidence of what the prime minister has told his domestic critics, that his close relationship to the United States helps him influence events here?

ROBIN NIBLETT: I think part of the reason he had to come here and stand next to President Bush and make his case, as well, is that the whole sense of him having influence in private, or perhaps being in lockstep in public, was blasted out of the water, in essence, by the unguarded comments he made at the G-8 summit recently in St. Petersburg, the "Yo Blair" moment, as it's now known.

It demonstrated somebody who is deferential, even obsequious to U.S. interests, rather than pushing British interests. And Stephen Wall, one of his former advisers, has taken him to task in the British press on this, that the British national interest is not necessarily served simply by following U.S. interest. His view though is, "I'm not following British or U.S. national interest. I'm follow conviction for what is best in the world in the long term."

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Ambassador, does the E.U., large, rich, well-connected around the world, get to speak with a strong voice in international affairs when here, on one of the great world crises, you have governments all going their own way?

GIOVANNI CASTELLANETA: No, I think what is our aim is that the European Union can speak with just one voice and with an authoritative voice, and together, with the United States, try to help to restore peace and democracy around the world. I think that we have the means to do that. And the Italian government, especially, is one of the great support of a strong European Union, not only economically, but politically.

RAY SUAREZ: Robin Niblett, is the European Union 25 or one?

ROBIN NIBLETT: I think it's still 25, but the big worry in essence with that question is, what happens in the U.N. next week? Is there a risk that Jacques Chirac, who's under a lot of pressure himself at home, as well, might see this as an opportunity to point out the daylight between the French/European position and the U.S. position, and return to those moments of glory, at least in French diplomacy, when they stood apart from the United States on Iraq?

You know, my concern is I think, from an E.U. perspective, we do not have a solid position as yet, and certainly it isn't one that the U.K. is part of.

RAY SUAREZ: Robin Niblett, Mr. Ambassador, thank you both.

GIOVANNI CASTELLANETA: Thank you very much.