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World Leaders Fail to Agree on Cease-fire in Middle East

July 26, 2006 at 1:30 PM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: Top world diplomats came to Rome with views on the Middle East crisis as far apart politically as they are on the globe, from the U.S. to Europe, to Russia, and several Arab nations in the Middle East, minus the two major combatants, who were not invited, Israel and Hezbollah.

Many arrived wanting an immediate cease-fire. After hours of meetings, they departed with this joint statement of “their determination to reach, with the utmost urgency, a cease-fire that puts an end to the current violence and hostilities.”

More than 400 Lebanese and 40 Israelis have been killed over the past two weeks, but the statement added the cease-fire should be lasting, permanent and sustainable, reflecting the Bush administration position. Secretary of State Rice explained that stance again today.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. Secretary of State: We are all agreed that we want most urgently to end the violence on a basis that this time will be sustainable, because, unfortunately, this is a region that has had too many broken cease-fires, too many spasms of violence, followed then by other spasms of violence.

And we do have a way forward: We know that the international community made a pledge to the people of Lebanon when we passed Resolution 1559 that we would help Lebanon, the government of Lebanon, to establish its authority fully within its country as a sovereign state, without the interference of its neighbors, and as a state that could fully exercise its control throughout its territory, and that would have complete control over any means of violence.

In other words, that there would not be militias, but rather one authority and one gun.

There is much work to do, and everyone has a role to play. We all committed to dedicated and urgent action to try and bring about an end to this violence that, indeed, would be sustainable and that would leave the Lebanese government with the prospect of full control of its country.

This is very important: We cannot — and I’ve heard it many, many times during this conference — we cannot return to the status quo ante.

RAY SUAREZ: Rice arrived at the conference after meetings with the Lebanese and Israeli government leaders. The Italian foreign minister thanked the Israelis for opening corridors to transport humanitarian aid into Lebanon, but also urged the Olmert government to exercise restraint.

MASSIMO D’ALEMA, Foreign Minister, Italy: The cease-fire must be lasting, permanent and sustainable. The Rome conference affirmed that the fundamental condition for lasting security in Lebanon is the government’s full ability to exercise its authority over all its territory.

Participants, finally, agreed that any lasting solution to Middle East tensions must be regional. They expressed their full commitment to the people of Lebanon, Israel and throughout the region to act immediately with international community toward the goal of a comprehensive and sustainable peace.

RAY SUAREZ: The delegates also agreed on the immediate need for a U.N. force in Lebanon, but offered no details on the mission, who would pay for it, or provide the troops. United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan picked up on the theme of urgency.

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. Secretary General: It is important that we get early and quick contributions for the international force that may eventually be sent to the region to help stabilize southern Lebanon, to allow Lebanon, the government of Lebanon, time and space to prepare its own troops, and be able to extend its authority throughout the country, and to bring under governmental authority all the weapons and guns in the country.

RAY SUAREZ: Annan also appealed for an immediate cease-fire, one day after an Israeli rocket killed four unarmed U.N. observers in southern Lebanon.

There was a passionate address to reporters from the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, putting, in the words of Condoleezza Rice, “a human face” on the conflict.

FOUAD SINIORA, Prime Minister of Lebanon: For the past 15 days, we are being pounded every day, and scores of people are dying every day, and scores are really being injured. And the country is being cut to pieces so that, really, to bring the country to its knees, and that’s what’s happening.

Let me tell you: Throughout the past years, did any of the actions that Israel committed over the years bring additional security and safety to Israel? Not at all; it did not bring at all any safety or security.

What brings security and safety is the ability of Israel to really build good relations with its neighbors. And how this can be done is really going through the peace process.

RAY SUAREZ: The Lebanese prime minister said, as part of any negotiations, he’d press several conditions demanded by Hezbollah, including the Israeli withdrawal from a disputed border area. In Lebanon, Hezbollah leaders dismissed the Rome conference.

HUSSEIN HAJ HASSAN, Hezbollah Member of Lebanese Parliament (through translator): I wasn’t expecting much from the Rome conference because the United States and its secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, have refused a cease-fire because they have their own agenda in the Middle East. And because of this, they have given extra time to Israel to achieve something on the ground.

International consensus

Robert Malley
International Crisis Group
In other words, there was disagreement coming in about whether there should be an immediate cease-fire and there's disagreement at the tail end, about whether there should be an immediate cease-fire.

RAY SUAREZ: While across the border, senior Israeli military officials predicted the fighting would go on for weeks.

Some analysis now of today's meeting in Rome. For that, we're joined by Martin Indyk, who was assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs and twice U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration. He's now director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

And Robert Malley, who was special assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs and also served on the National Security Council staff, is now the Middle East program director at the International Crisis Group, which promotes conflict prevention and resolution.

And, Robert Malley, if the Israelis were clear about not wanting a cease-fire and the United States totally backs them in that intention, what was there to talk about in Rome?

ROBERT MALLEY, International Crisis Group: Well, I think Rome came -- what came out of Rome is what went into Rome. In other words, there was disagreement coming in about whether there should be an immediate cease-fire and there's disagreement at the tail end, about whether there should be an immediate cease-fire. And everything else that was agreed, frankly, could have been agreed, was agreed beforehand.

So it seems like Rome was done because everyone felt that they needed to show that they had to do something, but it doesn't seem like it's going to change anything on the ground.

RAY SUAREZ: Was it worth doing?

ROBERT MALLEY: In hindsight, not clear, because I think you always raise expectations when you have a summit like this, and much of this could have been done without bothering organizing the kind of summit. What really matters is what we're going to do fro from now on.

Rome is over. Let's see whether people can put their minds together and get a quicker cease-fire than seems to be the case.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Indyk, do you agree that much of this could have been accomplished without bothering to organize a conference?

MARTIN INDYK, Saban Center for Middle East Policy: No, I don't.

I think that the important story out of the conference is the international consensus that is being formed, and the conference helped in that regard, to deal with a number of issues: first of all, the humanitarian crisis; secondly, the issue of an international force; and, thirdly, the call for the extension of the Lebanese government's authority throughout the country, that is to southern Lebanon, and to have the international force backing up the Lebanese army in the pursuit of that; and, finally, the call, which was expressed not only in the communique, but also by the secretary general and the secretary of state, for a process of disarming Hezbollah.

RAY SUAREZ: And when all the different parties come up at the end and have their say, did you hear anything, Ambassador, that gave you some encouragement, some countries, perhaps saying things in carefully diplomatic terms that gave you some encouragement that there might be some daylight here?

MARTIN INDYK: Well, I think that consensus that I just described on the basic elements of what would be a cease-fire package was manifested in the statements by the Italian foreign minister reading out the communique, by the secretary general, by the secretary of state, and by the Lebanese prime minister.

And I think that reflects a broader consensus of Arab governments that were represented there. The Russians were also there and, of course, the E.U. And so I think that the basis has been laid for going to the Security Council and getting a new resolution, which would have those elements in it: call for a cease-fire; call for the extension of the Lebanese government's authority throughout the country; call for the implementation of 1559, which requires the disarmament and disbandment of all militias in Lebanon.

RAY SUAREZ: Those points that the ambassador just ran down, does that at least build a foundation for people to start working on?

ROBERT MALLEY: Listen, I think a week ago we knew what this foundation was. In fact, Martin Indyk laid it out on this show. We knew that those pillars were there. I don't think that's the issue.

The issue is whether you could get a cease-fire before you work out all the details of those points and whether you can get a cease-fire right away.

How are you going to disarm Hezbollah? What's the composition of the force? What's its mandate? How is the Lebanese authorities going to extend their authority over the entirety of the country? Those are tough issues. We could agree in principle, and everyone agrees -- at least the main players agree in principle.

What are you going to do to stop the fighting? The message they're hearing in Lebanon coming out of Rome is: Everyone wanted an immediate cease-fire, except for one country, our country. And I think that's a message that we're going to have to live with. They have to live with. We're going to have to live with the consequences. It's not the image we should be having in the region at this time.

Consequences for the United States

Martin Indyk
Saban Center for Middle East Policy
[A] cease-fire benefits Hezbollah and really plays to the disadvantage, not only of Israel, but also of the future of a Lebanon in which Hezbollah...will dominate that country with its Iranian and Syrian agenda.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you heard Robert Malley, Ambassador. We'll have to live with the consequences. What are the consequences for the United States of being isolated on this one?

MARTIN INDYK: I agree, the optic is highly problematic, and the consequences in the region are negative. And they come in the context of a much greater negative attitude towards the United States that has nothing to do with this particular crisis, but much more with the last six years of U.S. policy, and particularly what's happened in Iraq, and all that's associated with it, and the failure of this administration to take seriously the effort to try to promote an end to the Palestinian intifada and an Israeli-Palestinian negotiation that could lead to the two-state solution that they've espoused.

So, in a sense, the chickens are coming home to roost here at a most inconvenient time, because I think, in this particular case -- and here Robert and I will agree on practically everything else in the Middle East, but we don't agree on this -- that, in this particular case, a cease-fire benefits Hezbollah and really plays to the disadvantage, not only of Israel, but also of the future of a Lebanon in which Hezbollah, if it comes out a victor in this crisis, will dominate that country with its Iranian and Syrian agenda.

RAY SUAREZ: Robert Malley, isn't that the crux of the matter, whether a cease-fire, as the ambassador suggests, benefits Hezbollah?

ROBERT MALLEY: You know, we were on this show just a few days ago and the same arguments were made. Let's just look at what happened since the argument was made then, that a cease-fire would benefit Hezbollah.

Israel's suffering casualties at a high rate and, unfortunately -- and it's a very unfortunate thing -- and they could support it far less easily than Hezbollah can. Hezbollah can sustain a high level of casualties.

Public opinion in Lebanon is turning more vehemently against Israel. Polls today show majorities across sectarian groups opposing Israel and backing at least the notion of resistance. I'm not saying that's a lasting sentiment, but that's what we have now.

The Lebanese government is getting weaker by the day. When you hear the impassioned plea by Prime Minister Siniora, he's not saying that because he wants to do Hezbollah a favor. He's saying if this continues his government is going to be weakened even more quickly than Hezbollah is weakened.

I see no evidence militarily, I see no evidence politically that, as time goes on, Israel is winning and Hezbollah is losing. This is not the kind of conflict that you measure how many people are being lost on both sides.

Hezbollah wins if it can stand up, if it can sustain the blows. What happened today, with the large number of Israeli casualties, is going to be presented and perceived by the Lebanese as a great victory for Hezbollah. I don't think time is on the side of the government of Prime Minister Siniora, or of Israel, or of the United States.

Political solutions

Robert Malley
International Crisis Group
Armed confrontation is what they want. They've said from the beginning, "We want a ground war, because we know that we could beat the Israelis, at least as we define success, much more easily than we can from the air."

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Ambassador, so far nine dead confirmed by Israel of its soldiers, the same day that Major General Udi Adam of the Israeli Defense Forces says that there's weeks to go in this conflict. You just heard Robert Malley say time is not on Israel's side or Hezbollah's side.

MARTIN INDYK: I think that the Israeli ground operations, which are resulting in high Israeli casualties --and I think the figure is probably higher than nine today -- is an essential part of the achievement of a stable cease-fire and a better future for Lebanon, because it's only if the Israeli army can succeed in cleaning out Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon that it will be possible for the Lebanese government, the Lebanese army, to move in there with the backing of an international force.

So I think that that what's happening on the ground is actually very important for the future. Now, at the same time, there needs to be a political arrangement, a context, a framework for a solution here.

And that is what I think is emerging out of Rome and the other efforts of the international community, such that, at a certain point -- and I don't think it should be long in coming -- the Lebanese government will be in a position to go to Hezbollah and say, "Look, we can get a cease-fire. We can get a resolution of all of the territorial issues that you claim that you're maintaining your arms to achieve, that is particular the Shebaa Farms issue. We can get the prisoners back, but you have to agree, not only to cease-fire, but to pull out of the south and end your status as, in effect, a state within a state."

And if Siniora has the backing of the Arab governments, the international community, and the cooperation of Israel in that, then Hezbollah is going to, in a sense, be put a corner and will have to accept a cease-fire on terms in which it will also be under pressure to keep out of the south, to reduce the friction between Hezbollah and Israel, and begin the process of disarmament, which would give the Lebanese government sovereignty over the whole country.

RAY SUAREZ: What do you think of the scenario you just heard?

ROBERT MALLEY: I think in theory it's a nice scenario. I think the problem with it is that, as long as the hostilities continue, Hezbollah is on the terrain it wants to be on. Politics is where it may have things to lose, as Martin has just laid out.

If you, in fact, can go tell, "Hezbollah, listen, we have all of these things coming. Now we need to move you towards a more political, less military organization," for as long as the hostilities continue, this is where Hezbollah thrives. This is where they can say, not only are we defending the nation, Israel is now occupying south Lebanon again. So who are you to come talk to us about making concessions?

This is not the dynamic you want if you want to corner Hezbollah. Armed confrontation is what they want. They've said from the beginning, "We want a ground war, because we know that we could beat the Israelis, at least as we define success, much more easily than we can from the air."

I don't think this is going anywhere near the political solution that I would agree with Martin we should have; I don't think it's taking that direction.

RAY SUAREZ: Robert Malley, Martin Indyk, gentlemen, thank you both.

ROBERT MALLEY: Thank you.