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Secretary Rice Visits Beirut as Hezbollah-Israeli Shelling Continues

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited with Lebanese officials in Beirut Monday. Experts analyze the purpose of her trip and the role of U.S diplomacy in the Middle East.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now, the American diplomatic push to end the violence between Hezbollah and Israel. It began today with Secretary of State Rice's visit to Lebanon, a country once again caught up in the fighting and the maneuvering of outside powers and once again a focus of American interests in the Middle East.

    To assess the Rice visit to Beirut, we're joined by Hisham Melhem, Washington correspondent for the Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar and host of a weekly program on Al-Arabiya. He was born and raised in Lebanon, but is now an American citizen.

    And Theodore Kattouf, a former State Department official who spent 31 years covering Middle Eastern affairs, his final posting was to Syria as U.S. ambassador from 2001 to 2003.

    Welcome to you, both.

  • THEODORE KATTOUF, President, AMIDEAST:

    Thank you.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Ambassador Kattouf, what would Secretary Rice like to achieve on a trip like this and what can she achieve?

  • THEODORE KATTOUF:

    Well, I think the administration goals are rather clear. They want to see Hezbollah become merely a social movement, a political party in Lebanon, but certainly not an armed militia, not a state within a state.

    And for that reason, she's coming with the hope that she can fashion some kind of an agreement with the Lebanese government and various Lebanese factions to achieve that goal.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Is it a realistic hope?

  • THEODORE KATTOUF:

    It's hard to say right now. If I were a betting man, I would perhaps bet against it because it's very, very hard to imagine Hezbollah willingly giving up its weapons. Israel will have to almost certainly send in a lot more ground forces if it truly wants to disarm Hezbollah.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Hisham, are you a betting man?

  • HISHAM MELHEM, Washington Bureau Chief, An-Nahar:

    No, but I wouldn't necessarily bet my farm on it. I think the secretary went to Beirut because of the outcry from the Arab allies of the United States, chiefly the Saudis, the Egyptians, and the Jordanians and others, who look at the public opinion in their own countries getting angrier towards not only Israel, but also the United States.

    The United States clearly now is providing a political diplomatic cover for Israel's military onslaught against Lebanon, and they don't want a quick cease-fire.

    She went to Beirut. The secretary said to Lebanese essentially, "Release the two soldiers, then we will talk about a cease-fire later." The Lebanese essentially said, particularly Nabih Berri, who represent essentially for all purposes now, intents and purposes, he's negotiating on behalf of Hezbollah, "Let's talk about cease-fire. Cease-fire first, and then we will talk about other things."

    What is happening right now is an incredibly scary humanitarian disaster. We have more than 700,000 displaced Lebanese. This is the equivalent to 60 million Americans. And my fear is that, in the next few days, unless we have a quick fix about the cease-fire issue, the whole Lebanese governmental structure could collapse, and then all bets are off then.

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