|Originally Aired: July 18, 2006
U.S. Undersecretary of State Calls for Israel-Hezbollah Cease-fire
|Clashes between Israeli and Hezbollah forces continued Tuesday as several countries worked to evacuate their citizens from the danger zone. The U.S. Undersecretary of State discusses evacuating Americans from the area and strategies for ending the conflict.|
GWEN IFILL: The State Department estimates 25,000 Americans
are in Lebanon,
and many of them want to leave, but how to get them out of the war zone? That's
a work in progress.
For an update on the situation there, both logistical and
diplomatic, we turn to Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns.
Welcome, Mr. Burns.
NICHOLAS BURNS, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political
Affairs: Thank you, Gwen.
GWEN IFILL: Where does the evacuation process stand tonight?
NICHOLAS BURNS: Well, you're right. We've got well more than
25,000 American citizens in Lebanon.
We figure that perhaps 5,000 to 6,000 of them wish to leave and feel insecure,
and so what we're doing is we're registering all of them with our embassy.
Three hundred and fifty six of them came out today. Several
more hundred have come out in previous days because we established an air
bridge through the U.S.
military from Cyprus into Beirut.
We've leased two ships, and we think in the next 24 hours
well over 2,000 Americans will be evacuated on those ships from Beirut to Cyprus.
They will be protected by American naval vessels. And so it's a very
well-organized effort, but obviously a very chaotic environment on the ground,
as you can imagine, for American citizens who find themselves stranded in Lebanon.
GWEN IFILL: There is a perception among American citizens
apparently on the ground from reports there, as well as here in the United States, that the United States
has been more slow, has been slower than other nations in getting its citizens
out. Is there anything to that?
NICHOLAS BURNS: I don't think so. I'm sorry that that
perception is out there, because I can tell you we are working 24/7 on this. We
have a 24-hour task force here. We have people who we've sent to both Cyprus and Lebanon to help American citizens.
I think there's a different quality to the issue. A lot of
European countries have citizens in Lebanon who were there, frankly, as
tourists or short-term visitors.
The great majority of Americans who live in Lebanon are
dual-citizens. They carry two passports. They obviously feel more comfortable
They are embedded in the society there.
So a great number of Americans, probably the majority, are
going to choose not to leave, because perhaps they're not in Beirut, they're in safe parts of the country.
But for those Americans who wish to leave, we will do everything in our power
to help them leave.
We have a very well-organized effort through our American
embassy and Ambassador Jeff Feltman. And I think you will see, having
established the air bridge over the last couple of days -- and we were the
first to do that of any country -- we now have these two big ships coming in. And
you'll see lots of Americans get to safety in Cyprus in the coming day or two.
Finding a way out of Lebanon
GWEN IFILL: If you are an American who's living in Lebanon but not in Beirut
and you don't have the money or the resources to get you to Beirut, will the American government come get
NICHOLAS BURNS: Well, what we're telling Americans in that
situation, if they're in a dangerous area of Lebanon, if they have a computer,
www.state.gov. They can contact us there. If they have a telephone, they can
contact us through phone.
We have a limited ability, of course, given the situation,
to send American personnel to distant parts of the country, just given the fact
there's so much violence. But, obviously, if an American citizen feels
stranded, we will find a way to help that American citizen. We're not going to
leave anyone in an unprotected position.
GWEN IFILL: And there has been some question raised today
about who pays for these evacuations. There's a United States senator tonight
introducing a bill that would force the government to pay for these
evacuations. What is the policy on that?
NICHOLAS BURNS: Well, first of all, Gwen, we're not going to
ask people for money as they get on ships to leave in a state of some duress
from Lebanon, but American government practice over the last several decades
has been that, if there's an evacuation such as this, and there's a cruise ship
or an airliner that takes people out, people commit to pay the commercial rate
at some later date, not at the time.
A commercial airfare, in this case, from Beirut
that provision has been in practice for a long time. It can sometimes be
waived. I can certainly understand the point of view of members of Congress
that it seems a bit odd to be talking about money at a time like this.
And so, believe me, we're not going to be asking American
citizens to pay before they leave. If people don't have the money, that's fine.
We will put them on these ships because their safety is our first priority.
The fundamental responsibility of our government and our
State Department to Americans overseas is to help them. And we're putting an
enormous effort into helping American citizens in Lebanon. I think we've been
effective, and you'll see a major effort in the next 24 hours to get several
thousand people out.
Plans to intervene in the crisis
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Undersecretary, on a related issue, Israel's
ambassador to the United Nations said this afternoon on one of the cable
networks that he is expecting Condoleezza Rice, Secretary Rice, to come to the
United Nations on Thursday and then embark for the region on Friday. Can you
confirm that for us?
NICHOLAS BURNS: I can't confirm those specific plans. Of
course, you know that Secretary Rice is considering a trip to the region. Obviously,
the United States,
given our power and influence in the region, given all of the interests at
stake that we have, we are going to be interested in being as helpful as we can
to resolve this crisis.
So Secretary Rice is considering when the best time to make
that trip would be, as she said today, but there's no question that what we've
got to do now -- and there's a surprising degree of unanimity in the world
about this -- Hezbollah has to act to give up the Israeli soldiers and to stop
the shelling of one million Israelis in northern Israel.
The shelling of places like Haifa,
and Tiberius, and Acre, places that haven't
seen this kind of violence in 35 years, is reprehensible. There have been 500
to 600 rocket attacks on Israel
in the last couple of days.
And as President Bush said today, every country has a right
to defend itself. Hezbollah is the one that broke international law and four
U.N. Security Council resolutions by crossing the blue line and by being the
aggressor in this instance.
GWEN IFILL: Does Israel
have to sign off on any U.S.
plan to intervene in this?
NICHOLAS BURNS: Well, Israel
is a friend and ally of the United
States, and so obviously -- I met with the
Israeli ambassador today. Secretary Rice and the president have been in touch
with the Israeli leadership.
Obviously, we're going to work with Israel, as well as with
our friend, Prime Minister Siniora in Lebanon, a person whom we strongly
support and whose government we want to support, and we'll work with both of
those governments to try to see if we can bring this situation to stability and
then to peace.
But the real difficulty here is that Hezbollah -- by the
way, a terrorist organization that has killed lots of Americans in the past --
Hezbollah has decided at this point to instigate a crisis with Israel. They
have crossed the border. They've crossed the blue line.
And so it's Israel's
responsibility to protect itself. It's in the American national interest to
exert our strength to see if we can now get Hezbollah to back away from the
border, stop shelling Israel,
and return the Israeli soldiers.
And obviously we want to see as soon as possible an end to
violence, because innocent people in Israel
are being killed, and, frankly, innocent civilians in Lebanon are the victims of
Hezbollah at this point.
Beginnings of a slow process
GWEN IFILL: President Bush said yesterday and again today
should get involved. And we had the Syrian ambassador, Mr. Moustapha, on the
program last night. And his response was he said it was a simplistic approach
and that President Bush thinks that it only suffices for Secretary Annan to
call President Bashar Assad through a telephone conversation and, voila,
everything is resolved.
Those were his words. Why is so much pressure being applied
NICHOLAS BURNS: I wish the Syrian ambassador could be more
forthright about what's happening. The Syrian government has been trying to
re-supply Hezbollah with Katyusha rockets and Fajr missiles. The Fajr missiles
are the longer-range missiles that have been able to hit Haifa
and killed nine Israelis there yesterday and the other towns in northern Israel.
Syria has a responsibility to stop arming Hezbollah and to
use its direct influence with Sheik Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, to get
Hezbollah to stop the fighting and to pull back from southern Lebanon so that
we can then come in with an effort to provide some stability, and where the
United Nations might be effective, obviously, in thinking through a longer-term
But until that happens, until Syria and Iran stop their
outright support for Hezbollah, then obviously this is going to be a crisis
that's going to be very difficult to resolve.
GWEN IFILL: If you are not speaking directly or you can't
see eye to eye with Syria
and you can't see eye to eye with Iran, who exactly is going to speak
NICHOLAS BURNS: Gwen, I think the problem from our
perspective is not a lack of communication between the United States and Iran. We have diplomatic relations
The problem is not communication.
The problem is that these two states are trying to
Syria had a 30-year occupation
that ended last year, negatively for the Syrians.
They're supporting Hezbollah in their terrorist actions
against moderate Palestinians, against innocent civilians in Lebanon, as well
as against the state of Israel. Hezbollah is the source of the problem, and the
two main backers, Syria and Iran, have a lot to answer for.
So we were in St. Petersburg the other day with the G-8
countries, and all of the G-8 leaders said in a formal statement the problem is
with Hezbollah and those that support them, Iran and Syria. And it was
remarkable to see that degree of unity among leaders as diverse as the Russian
president and the Japanese prime minister, the American president.
You're seeing a lot of international pressure -- and from
Arab countries as well -- on Syria and Iran to stop the support of Hezbollah,
and hopefully it will have some effect in the coming days so that these
innocent people being killed, so that violence can stop.
GWEN IFILL: The Israelis have said this could take a couple
of weeks. If cease-fire is the eventual goal, but that a prisoner swap has to
happen either before or after or simultaneously, what is the next step that you
have to take, that the U.S. has to take, in order to accomplish that cease-fire,
or do you plan to take, I should ask?
NICHOLAS BURNS: Well, we're in constant contact right now --
as a next step, Gwen, I think -- with Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the
U.N., with the Arab countries that have some influence, both on Hezbollah as
well as on Iran and Syria.
The first step has to be for Hezbollah to step back from
this crisis, and to shift its forces back, and to stop the shelling of Israeli
civilians. That is the first step.
If that cannot happen, then there is very little reason to
believe that this crisis can be put to an end anytime soon. The United States
obviously has an interest here and a responsibility to use our influence
wisely. We're doing that.
Secretary Rice has been on the phone several times a day
over the last couple of days, and you'll see us being very active working
towards peace and stability.
GWEN IFILL: Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, thank
you very much.
NICHOLAS BURNS: Thank you, Gwen.
||U.S. Undersecretary of State Calls for Israel-Hezbollah Cease-fire