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YOUR WORLD TODAY

U.S. Evacuation Effort From Lebanon; Long and Tedious Road to Possible Solution in Mideast; Hezbollah Leader Key to Situation in Lebanon

Aired July 18, 2006 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom is very afraid for me, and I don't want to be here when it could get worse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't actually think something serious was going to happen until they started bombing the airport and closing off all the streets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RALITSA VASSILEVA, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Escape from Lebanon. Hundreds of foreigners join the Lebanese exodus from Beirut.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Diplomacy at work, but will it stop the bombs from dropping on both sides of the border?

VASSILEVA: And another day, a new deadly attack. Dozens die as civilians are targeted in the latest spout of violence in Iraq.

HOLMES: Hello and welcome, everyone. Just some of the stories we are following for you in this hour now. Our report broadcast around the globe.

Greetings, all. I'm Michael Holmes.

VASSILEVA: And I'm Ralitsa Vassileva.

From Beirut, to Jerusalem, and Baghdad, this is YOUR WORLD TODAY.

Hezbollah showers more rockets on northern Israel as Israeli warplanes pound targets in Lebanon.

HOLMES: That's right. As this conflict enters its seventh day, tens of thousands of people trying to get out ut of harm's way by sea, by road, and by air. They're trying to leave any way they can.

Countries are sending in cruise ships and military helicopters, as you can see here, to evacuate their citizens. This picture was filmed from the top of the U.S. Embassy.

Here are some of the latest developments now.

VASSILEVA: Hezbollah fired a fresh barrage of rockets on Tuesday. One person was killed in Nahariya. More rockets also hit Haifa and Aka (ph).

HOLMES: Now, in Lebanon, the city of Tyre was among, again, the targets hit in Israeli airstrikes, as was a Lebanese army barracks. Israel says its offensive to crush Hezbollah could last several more weeks.

VASSILEVA: Diplomacy is picking up momentum. A U.N. negotiating team in Israel said, "Concrete ideas were presented."

Among those fleeing are many Americans.

Our Alessio Vinci has more on that -- Alessio.

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Ralitsa.

I'm speaking to you from the ground of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, where today we saw four Marine helicopters that carried each 30 Americans away from this country into Cyprus. This is not yet the evacuation per se of the American citizens, the large-scale evacuations of the thousands of Americans who are expected to want to leave from here. But these are special cases, young children, of course.

We saw a mother with a baby who was just 21 yeas old. A young couple, he's American, she is Lebanese. They've been married for nine years, they live in the United States. They came here on vacation because he insisted after nine years he wanted to meet the parents and the family members of his wife. They arrived here in late June, and they got stuck here in the bombings.

So this is just a small portion of the Americans who want to leave.

We do understand that there are cruise ships, as well as other means for the Americans that are about to arrive here in Beirut. And they will be able to leave in larger numbers in the coming days.

A big difference between what the Americans are doing and the other European nationalities -- nationals are doing, is that the Americans, order to get out of here, they actually have to pay the U.S. government in order to be able to do so. And that is why right before boarding those helicopters, they have to sign some promissory notes that they will pay back the U.S. government.

The French government yesterday has organized other evacuations through cruises -- to a cruise ship -- to a ferry, actually, I should say. The Italians have been leaving by car to Damascus.

All these evacuations have been done free of charge. But as far as the Americans are concerned, it is standard procedure for the American government to charge back its citizens.

Ralitsa, back to you.

VASSILEVA: Alessio, what are people saying about the fact that they have to pay for this? There was already criticism that the Americans had taken much longer than others to evacuate their citizens.

VINCI: Well, obviously, the people who made it on these helicopters had very little criticism towards the organization here. They were quite happy to leave.

A woman also started -- broke up in tears and saying, "Enough of war. Enough of war."

As far as the costs are concerned, basically they told us, look, you know, freedom has no cost. "We want to get out of here, and we're ready to pay. This is not the problem. We really want to get out of here because we're scared of war."

So there seems to be no concern as far as the Americans that we talked to today about paying -- paying for those -- for their way out of here.

VASSILEVA: Alessio Vinci on the evacuation efforts from Beirut.

Thank you very much -- Michael

HOLMES: All right. As Beirut once again becomes a battered city, Saad Hariri, the son of the slain former prime minister Rafik Hariri, made an urgent appeal for a cease-fire. He said people could not pay the price of destruction of their country again because of one incident.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAAD HARIRI, FMR. PRIME MINISTER RAFIK HARIRI'S SON: In discussion today, there is a machine destroying Lebanon, a machine that is killing Lebanese, a machine that has made so many atrocities. And we need to stop this.

And, you see, war will not come to a solution. But a political solution will come to stability and peace. And this is what King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called for in Beirut, for a -- for a peace process for the Arab world with Israel.

And what did Israel do with it? Nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Well, while diplomacy inches forward, the United Nations warns that the humanitarian situation in Lebanon is now at crisis level.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAN EGELAND, U.N. EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR: The situation is very bad and it is deteriorating. We now have reports of hundreds of thousands of people being displaced. They're fleeing into Syria, they're fleeing into the mountains of Lebanon, or they're trying to seek refuge by friends, family. Tens of thousands are already in schools and public buildings.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VASSILEVA: Residents living in northern Israel continue to live under constant sirens and Hezbollah rocket attacks. The latest missiles landed in the coastal city of Nahariya, and also around Haifa. One of about a dozen rockets that hit Nahariya landed directly on a house killing one person. Israeli defense forces said Hezbollah has fired 750 rockets into northern Israel since Thursday.

HOLMES: Well, with those rockets continuing to fall on Israeli cities, a new poll shows an overwhelming number of Israelis support their government's offensive in Lebanon. The Israeli military is refusing at the moment to rule out a possible ground offensive even as diplomacy does start its slow move.

Paula Newton reports now on the long and tedious road to a possible solution.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Israel, the war footing continues, ammunition is pouring in, Reservists are being called up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's war now, so duty calls.

NEWTON: And now diplomats are on the ground. When a United Nations delegation met with the Israeli government, the message was clear, there will be no immediate cease-fire.

TERJE ROED-LARSEN, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY: I think both parties agree that it is necessary indeed to have the political framework in order to reach eventually a cease-fire. We have presented concrete ideas, specific ideas, which we also have presented to our Lebanese counterparts. The government of Israel will now deliberate these ideas.

NEWTON: But the Israelis seem to be in no hurry. As their punishing campaign against Hezbollah continues, they seem free to set most of the conditions of any peace plans. Top of the list, forcing Lebanon to disarm what's left of Hezbollah and take back control of their southern border.

To do it, the Israeli foreign minister says her government might consider an international force to back up what is a weakened Lebanese army.

TZIPI LIVNI, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER: So Israel will look into details about what is the best way to get an effective force on one force on one hand, but yet to reach a point in the future in which it will be a Lebanese army on the entire Lebanon.

NEWTON: An international force, UNIFIL, it is already on the ground in southern Lebanon, 2,000 strong, but an impotent army, perched very close to Hezbollah militia bases, yet powerless to enforce peace.

Israeli's deputy prime minister says that must change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I don't believe that an international force, which is not a fighting force, and which is not ready really to face the situation as it is, can stop it.

NEWTON (on camera): Even if an international force is assembled, a peace plan is still a long way off. Especially since so far Israel has said it will offer no concessions in return for a cease-fire.

Paula Newton, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: All right. Don't go away. Obviously, we've got a lot more to cover on this story coming up.

VASSILEVA: That's right. We're going to have a closer look at the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah.

HOLMES: Plus, we're also going to interview the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon. He's going to be with us.

VASSILEVA: But let's look at some other stories making news at this hour.

A tsunami that crashed into the coast of Java has killed more than 300 people. Local residents weren't warned about the wave. Indonesian officials say they haven't finished installing a warning system developed after the devastating tsunami of 2004.

The wave is the second major disaster to hit Indonesia in recent weeks. In May, an earthquake killed more than 6,000 in the country's Yogyakarta region.

HOLMES: A suicide car bomb has killed at least 59 people in a Shiite city south of Baghdad. Some of them lured to their deaths by a lie.

Iraqi police in Kufa say a suicide car bomber drove up to a busy marketplace on Tuesday morning where workers gather to find day jobs. With the promise of work, the bomber packed his van with passengers and then set off his explosives.

VASSILEVA: The bustling city of Mumbai fell quiet as the city remembered last week's train attacks with a moment of silence. Millions stopped all conversation. Traffic came to a halt, and thousands laid flowers at the seven blast sites. The attacks killed 182 people and wounded hundreds more.

HOLMES: Now to Afghanistan. U.S.-led forces there say they are planning what they call decisive operations to reclaim two southern Afghan towns recently captured by Taliban.

Taliban militants chased police from the towns located near the Pakistani border. Those towns are in Helmand province, scene of fierce fighting in recent weeks. A U.S. spokesman said the Afghan government's reach has not yet extended to the country's farthest regions.

Don't go away.

World leaders typically seek the limelight for what some would call good or evil intentions.

VASSILEVA: Coming up, others seem to lurk in the shadows. We will see how one of them plays prominently in the current Middle East crisis.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone, to YOUR WORLD TODAY.

I'm Michael Holmes.

VASSILEVA: And I'm Ralitsa Vassileva.

We're watching live pictures now, an evacuation under way of Americans from Beirut. These are pictures, in fact, which we received just moments ago.

These helicopters are there to take those Americans in most need to evacuate. There will be cruise ships that will take others wanting to leave the shelling in Beirut.

Also, we're receiving reports from the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation that the city of Tyre, which is to the south of Beirut, has also been shelled. That's all we have at this point.

HOLMES: A place often considered a Lebanese stronghold, also a place that has been hit many times during this latest violence in the Middle East.

Now, one of the -- of course, one of the key players in this whole drama is a -- is a man that we know very little about. Or many people don't. You won't see Hassan Nasrallah on the talk shows or conducting many news conferences.

VASSILEVA: Absolutely. Brian Todd takes a look now at the defiant and influential leader of Hezbollah.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): His whereabouts are a tight secret, but he's the most public Arab voice against Israel in this fight.

HASSAN NASRALLAH, HEZBOLLAH LEADER (through translator): We will continue -- we will be able to defeat the enemy.

TODD: He's led one of the region's most notorious militant groups into the mainstream of Lebanese politics, but has also led his forces into deadly confrontations with Israel. Two of the many contradictions of 46-year-old Hassan Nasrallah, the defiant leader of Hezbollah.

ROBIN WRIGHT, "WASHINGTON POST": Hassan Nasrallah is a man who combines the kind of charismatic Islamic populist ideology of Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's revolutionary leader, with the wily guerrilla tactics of Che Guevara.

TODD: Born in Beirut, trained as a Shiite cleric in Iraq and Iran, Nasrallah joined Hezbollah when it was established in 1982, became its leader 10 years later when his predecessor was assassinated by Israeli forces and suffered his own personal loss in the late 1990s.

HISHAM MELHEM, "AN-NAHAR" NEWSPAPER, LEBANON: He lost a son fighting Israeli troops when they were occupying South Lebanon. So there's a good deal of stature.

TODD: Stature in Lebanon and beyond, according to analysts. They say for dispossessed Muslims, Nasrallah has emerged as a more pragmatic counterbalance to Osama bin Laden, who Nasrallah has condemned as despicable.

JON ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Osama bin Laden comes across as removed. He talks in sort of cryptic sentences. Hassan Nasrallah doesn't talk in cryptic sentences. He raises his fist and he tells you how the world needs to be.

TODD: But the two have common enemies. At the same time Nasrallah was leading Hezbollah's rise in the Lebanese parliament. Intelligence analysts say he helped shelter Imad Mughniyeh, the alleged mastermind of the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut.

(on camera): Could this be the end of the line for Hassan Nasrallah. Some analysts believe he miscalculated this time, not figuring that Hezbollah's kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers would escalate to this point. They say Nasrallah's fate may depend on how long Israel wants to keep up this fight.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: Well, support for Nasrallah has never been higher on the streets of Syria. For the moment, it seems he's a hero to much of the Islamic world. Not all of it, but much of it.

Aneesh Raman joins us now from Damascus with more.

Tell us about his standing where you are, Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael, good afternoon.

Where there may have been shades of gray when it comes to Hassan Nasrallah, at least where we've been today it seems things are pretty black and white now. There's growing support. I'm standing just across from one of the oldest and biggest mosques within all of Syria. People are now gathering to prepare for evening prayers. And across from that is the biggest market within all of Damascus.

Inside a huge market is a huge banner voicing support for Nasrallah, saying that he is mislabeled as a terrorist and that he is fighting the cause for resistance. On the streets and on the market shops, they are now selling posters that we're told for the first time feature the Syrian president, Bashar Assad, as well as Nasrallah. And also, Hezbollah flags are being given out for free. The music shops have just as of yesterday started selling nationalist songs from Lebanon supporting Hezbollah.

And they say that essentially -- when I asked them that he's labeled as a terrorist, he is part of this problem, he is firing rockets into northern Israel, they say that this is something that's been going on for years, it did not begin last Wednesday, and that they are legitimately seeking the return of Palestinian prisoners.

Joining me now is Mohammed. He is from Saudi Arabia. His family was in southern Lebanon. They have just come across the border.

Describe the scene in southern Lebanon as they've told you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, they were in horrible situation. They were terrified. They came under the shells. They just moved and -- you know, to move from there to here, it costs a lot to come to the border.

RAMAN: And when we talk about Hezbollah, when we talk about Nasrallah, southern Lebanon, of course, has strong support for Hezbollah. It doesn't necessarily exist this strong elsewhere in Lebanon. But we get a sense today that it is growing as an allegiance within the Muslim world.

What is your view? Is Hezbollah a terrorist organization?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, on the southern side of Lebanon, they don't think so. The other way around.

RAMAN: And what about elsewhere? Saudi Arabia? Here in...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Elsewhere, it's different opinions there. People who are benefiting from this, they are with it. People against it, getting out of it nothing.

RAMAN: And do you think Nasrallah is gaining popularity?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes.

RAMAN: The rivals, if not...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. He's getting popularity everywhere. We just moved from there and his popularity everywhere.

RAMAN: Has he become a leading voice now for this region?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think so. I think so.

RAMAN: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for your time.

And we spoke to many people who told us, if you go to Indonesia, if you go to Malaysia, if you go to Syria, if you go to Turkey, anywhere you go you will find pictures like these of Hassan Nasrallah. They pepper the entire marketplace that is teeming with people at this hour.

And the market owners that we talked to, many of them giving this away for free, saying this is legitimate resistance movement and that they support Hezbollah. And that support around Nasrallah is growing, and rivaling, if not beating those of Arab leaders -- Michael.

HOLMES: All right.

Aneesh Raman there reporting on Hassan Nasrallah, a pivotal player in this unfolding drama.

Well, let's move along now. We're going to have more on this still to come, including that interview with the Israeli ambassador to the United States.

VASSILEVA: But just ahead, though, accusations of foul play in New Orleans.

HOLMES: As the floodwaters rose, they wanted to get out quickly.

VASSILEVA: So they killed the patients under their care. Those are the allegations. A court appearance is expected today. We'll have details after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Daryn Kagan at CNN Center in Atlanta. More of YOUR WORLD TODAY in just a few minutes. First, though, let's check on stories making headlines here in the U.S.

Waters rising, a rush to evacuate. A critical time in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit, but did members of a hospital staff kill some patients to speed their own exist? Charges have just been filed in the case. Our Drew Griffin broke the story last fall, and he gave this update earlier on AMERICAN MORNING.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Dr. Anna Pou is the doctor who is now charged with second-degree murder in this case. She is the doctor that another doctor, Dr. Brian King (ph), came forward to CNN and said was holding syringes in the aftermath of Katrina on this floor of a hospital, a Memorial Hospital in New Orleans where this supposed killing took place. We can confirm now the doctor and two nurses -- the other nurses' names are Lori Budo and Cheri Landry -- have been charged with second- degree murder. They were arrested late yesterday afternoon, released on their own recognizance about midnight this morning, here in New Orleans, released from the jail.

They are connected to this 10-month-long investigation by the attorney general's office, Attorney General Charles Foti, who has been looking into the allegations that doctors and staff at Memorial Hospital were trying to evacuate that hospital. Remember, it was surrounded by water, they were running out of rations, they were trying to evacuate this hospital.

There were very few patients left. And the allegation is, instead of moving the last of those patients, they actually killed them, injected them with some kind of medication that ended their lives, and that would allow the doctors and staff to leave the hospital, leave those patients behind.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: The attorney for Dr. Anna Pou has responded to these developments, saying, "She is innocent of the charges, and we intend to vigorously contest them."

More details now about the arrests and investigation later today. CNN will have live coverage of the Louisiana attorney general's news conference. That's scheduled for 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

And we have developments to report in the government's controversial eavesdropping program. Earlier today, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales faced sharp questioning from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gonzales said that President Bush personally blocked an internal probe of the program. The chairman said the secrecy of the program is worrisome, especially when it operates beyond the reach of government watchdogs in the Office of Professional Responsibility.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I did inform you that -- that the terrorist surveillance program is a highly classified program. It's a very important program for the security of this country...

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Highly classified, very important. Many other lawyers in the Department of Justice had clearance. Why not OPR?

GONZALES: And the president of the United States makes decisions about who is ultimately given access...

SPECTER: Did the president makes the decision not to clear OPR?

GONZALES: As with all decisions that are non-operational, in terms of who has access to the program, the president of the United States makes the decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: Fierce heat persists from California to the Northeast. And demand for electricity is soaring, putting a strain on utilities.

A power cable is being blamed for leaving parts of LaGuardia Airport terminal in the dark. Some Delta and American Airlines flights have been canceled.

Many cities are encouraging people without air conditioning to go to community centers. Experts also advise people to drink plenty of fluids.

Children in Philadelphia took advantage of a spraying water hydrant to keep cool, while scores of people hit the beach in New Jersey.

Will there be any relief? Jacqui Jeras at our fancy, fantastic new weather center to tell us more about that.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hey, Daryn.

(WEATHER REPORT)

KAGAN: Stem cell showdown to tell you about. It's getting closer. The Senate now debating a bill to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Senators are expected to pass it later today and send it on to the White House -- as we see Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. President Bush is then expected to veto this, something he has never done in office. Neither the Senate nor the House is believed to have the votes needed to override that veto.

Another reminder. The Louisiana attorney general has more information to share about the arrests of a doctor and two nurses following a number of hospital deaths during Hurricane Katrina.

CNN will have live coverage of the AG's news conference. That's scheduled for 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

Meanwhile, more of YOUR WORLD TODAY continues after a quick break.

I'm Daryn Kagan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VASSILEVA: Welcome back to YOUR WORLD TODAY. I'm Ralitsa Vassileva.

HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes.

(NEWSBREAK) HOLMES: A suicide car bomb kills at least 59 people in a Shiite city south of Baghdad. Some of them were lured to their deaths by a lie.

Let's go to Baghdad. That's where we can find our Arwa Damon.

It has been a deadly two or three days, Arwa. Bring us up to date.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really has, Michael. And to start with just what happened this morning, at 7:30 in the morning, a suicide car bomber drove his vehicle into a group of day laborers that were gathered in the southern city of Kura (ph). In that attack alone, 59 Iraqi civilians killed, over 130 wounded. These just innocent civilians waiting to get work.

Yesterday we had another deadly attack in a market in the southern city of Mahmudiya (ph). In this case, innocent Iraqi civilians were out at a marketplace shopping for fruits and vegetables, when a number of explosions followed by an attack by armed gunman in that area left at least 40 killed. Across the country, hundreds have lost their lives in the last three days, Michael.

HOLMES: Now, while the world is focused on Lebanon, this death toll has been growing and growing. I understand a report came out from the health ministry in Iraq which gives some staggering statistics.

DAMON: It really does, Michael, and it's quite chilling. That report released by the United Nations mission, assistance mission in Iraq, citing a figure of 5,818 civilian deaths, only for May and June. They say the total number for 2006 over a six month period is 14,000 civilians. This number does include Iraqi security forces. But this number does include children. Children are not excluded from being victims of these attacks, be it bombings, or in some cases, targeted attacks by gangs.

Just to cite one example that was in this report, perhaps one of the more chilling examples, is the story of a 12-year-old boy named Usama (ph). According to the report, he was kidnapped. His family paid a $30,000 ransom for his release, but the Iraqi police later found his body in a plastic bag, stating that he had been sexually assaulted and then hung by his own clothes -- Michael.

HOLMES: Wow. That is just staggering. Arwa Damon in Baghdad there, and where action and slaughter continues as well. Thanks, Arwa.

VASSILEVA: Now, back to our top story, violence in Lebanon and Israel. We know that Hezbollah has fired a fresh barrage of rockets, hitting northern Israeli towns. In one town, in Nahariya, one person was killed. Also the city of Tyre (ph) in Lebanon was shelled. We're receiving information on that. That happened just moments ago.

From Lebanon, their voices calling for an immediate cease-fire. We're now joined, from the Israeli perspective from Washington by ambassador...

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And we're going break in here. We want to go ahead and listen to White House spokesman Tony Snow in the daily White House briefing.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... on a daily basis. It is not as if we're not having active and ongoing discussions. And one should not read too much or too little into the fact that the president hasn't had a direct conversation.

As I pointed out on the road, the people he has talked to are those who have more direct influence over Syria and Iran. He's talked with the Saudis. He's talked with the Jordanians. He's talked with the Egyptians.

But at this point, again, I would caution against -- I know a lot of people want to hear about this -- I would caution against reading too much into the fact that the president hasn't talked to Prime Minister Olmert. Secretary Rice has talked to him I think now on multiple occasions. Steve Hadley has been speaking to his opposite number. I know that there have been conversations with the Department of Defense as well.

QUESTION: So the idea that the United States is holding back in doing any more criticizing of Israel...

SNOW: What the United...

QUESTION: ... to give them a chance to take out as many targets as they want?

SNOW: No, because the insinuation there is that there is either active military planning, collusion or collaboration between the United States and Israel, and there just isn't.

Israel is proceeding in the manner it sees fit to defend itself and its territory. The United States, actually, has been in the lead of the diplomatic efforts issuing repeated calls for restraint but, at the same time, putting together an international consensus that we've got to remember who's responsible for this: Hezbollah. Hezbollah started this.

And Iran and Syria, its backers, ought to be using their influence to get Hezbollah to stop firing rockets and return the soldiers.

So that has been the consistent position that is shared not only by our colleagues in the G-8 but aforementioned governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.

So I think it would be misleading to say that the United States hasn't been engaged. We have been deeply engaged and actively engaged, and really from the start. And one of the key achievements at the G-8 summit was putting everybody there on record as being with the U.S. on it. QUESTION: Let me follow, because the G-8 summit was what it was, it was a G-8 summit.

What specifically would the president like to see other key players do? And what is he and his administration prepared to do in the sort of critical next steps?

The critical next steps really, right now, are up to Iran, Syria, Hezbollah. I mean, what has happened now as a result of the diplomacy I mentioned before is that the region's divided into two factions.

On the one side you've got Hezbollah and its backers, and that would be Iran and Syria. And on the other side you have everybody else.

So what the United States has done is built this consensus.

What we would like to see happen is the soldiers returned, the rocket firing stopped. And at that point try to go back to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1680 -- 1559 calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, for disbanding of all militias and for the effective control by the elected government of Lebanon over all its territory.

That clearly is not the case right now in portions of southern Lebanon. So part of what the next step would include is providing security within Lebanon to ensure that the government has effective control.

And as the president has said on a number of occasions, also making sure that the government of Prime Minister Siniora remains secure and is able to go ahead and strengthen itself to provide the requisite security and also build stability within the country.

(CROSSTALK)

SNOW: I also think, sorry, just to finish up, there's also a mention, I think, there's a recognition that at some point you are going to have humanitarian reconstruction efforts, and there was also talk at the G-8 about that.

So if you're looking at it, you are going to have a series of steps. Number one is you've got to try to get past the original causes, address the root causes, which is the Hezbollah incitements, the kidnapping and the rocket firings. Second, create the basis for a secure government in Lebanon. And third, get engagement from the international community in also helping rebuild.

QUESTION: Those immediate conditions, which are exactly the conditions that Israel has put forth, if those are not met, will the U.S. support any international stabilization force?

SNOW: Well, what's going to happen is, as you know, Kofi Annan now has a delegation in the region. They are going to come back Thursday night. We're waiting to hear on that.

There are a series of active and ongoing conversations about precisely how you provide the kind of stability. Somehow, you are going to have to provide stability in southern Lebanon. Whether it's an international stabilization force, whether it's the Lebanese armed forces, all those things are under discussion, and I don't think at this point anybody has come up with a solution on it. But it is -- you're absolutely right, it's something everybody is trying now to figure out in a practical manner, how do you pull it off?

And there really is no clear answer. That's one of the topics of continuing discussion between the G-8 members and their governments.

QUESTION: But you won't go as far to say that, if those conditions are not met, the U.S. will not support this force?

SNOW: No, I'm not going to say that.

QUESTION: What would the goal of a trip from the secretary of state be, then? She's not going to meet with anybody from Syria, Iran or Hezbollah, so what would a trip to the region do in terms of getting it closer to...

SNOW: Well, we're going to have to wait.

Look, the secretary's going to go, but she's not even sure when. I think I'm going to kick the can down the road a little bit, because I think at this point we do know, but it is a legitimate question asked precisely what she wants to do and accomplish. And I think it's probably better left to: When they figure out when they're going to do it, we'll be in a better position to announce precisely what it is she wants do.

QUESTION: Let me follow about the evacuations of Americans. Are you comfortable with the pace at which they have proceeded? And we're starting to hear from some Americans in Lebanon that they have not been getting adequate help, and this idea of they're paying for their evacuation and all that, they're having some problems with it.

What's your sense there?

SNOW: Well, a couple of things. We understand the anxieties of people in Lebanon. There are practical considerations. It is difficult. Our government has made the determination that it's not safe to travel by road. The bombings at the airport have made it impractical to use large aircraft to get in and out.

That leaves you helicopters and naval vessels. It takes time to get naval vessels there.

Now, the Department of Defense -- and, for a lot of these practical details, I will point to you the 2:45 briefing at State, because they're going to be able to give you a lot more detail. But I'll tell you what I do understand. There are practical difficulties in getting the vessels there, but we are working on foreign contract vessels to get people out, as well as getting naval assets in place. These would be assets that are able to provide transport for American citizens.

Also, putting out the word: Register; let us know who you are.

There are a number of other considerations that you have to take into account. In order to provide stability and security in the transportation -- they're trying to make it as timely as possible -- you don't simply say, "Everybody show up at a certain time," because you're going to have a flood at the docks and what you don't want to have is that.

What you want to be able to do is to move in an orderly fashion.

Once they get there, you're going to have to be able to do practical things like checking I.D.s, making sure everybody's secure before they go on, and so forth.

In addition, at the other end, you also have to be able to have the facilities to receive people and to figure out which individuals are going to be transported back to the United States or elsewhere.

There are going to be some cases where people have joint citizenship, but they really regard Lebanon as home. So to go to a place like Cyprus would mean that you're going to have to figure out how you're going to handle them if they don't have a place in the United States to go.

So, you see, there are a lot of moving parts here.

As for the complaint -- and I understand it -- about having to pay -- actually the same rate you get charged, which is commercial rate plus $1 -- that is a result of congressional law. It is actually part of the 2003 Foreign Relations Authorization Act.

Interestingly, the Department of State had actually asked for some fairly lax guidelines in terms of trying to do this. This is a provision that provides for the evacuation when lives are in danger by war, civil unrest or natural disaster. This includes American citizens, employees, dependents and so on.

The State Department wanted something like -- they wanted it on a reimbursable basis to the extent feasible. Congress said: No, no, no, we want to get our money out of them -- I'm paraphrasing. And they strengthened the language to the maximum extent practicable.

It's the law. I dare say it's something that is causing heartburn for a number of people, but it is the law and the State Department has to abide by it.

QUESTION: Are you going to push for any kind of supplemental to get some more money out there to...

SNOW: Don't know about that. It's too early to find out.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) comfortable with the pace at which all the planning has proceeded at? SNOW: Well, I'll tell you, what's happened is that people have been moving as rapidly as possible, but on the other hand, it takes time to move ships into port as rapidly as possible.

What you can say is they've doubled the number of helos that are in. This is an unusual circumstance because two of the three most likely ways to get people out, by road and by air, really are largely unavailable. So now you have naval transport, and they are moving as rapidly as they can.

And, again, also addressing all the ancillary security concerns. The other thing is, we are talking about being prepared, whether it is necessary or not.

Right now, the embassy is making rough estimates, but they don't know for sure how many people are really going to want to get out. But they are trying to prepare so that they can move large numbers, if necessary.

And I think at this point I will punt it over, because I know there is a lot of stuff going on. I've talked to State and I've talked to DOD today. But I think I'd be more comfortable letting the people who have the hands on responsibility for that go ahead and characterize what they're trying to do.

QUESTION: The United States is not that helpless. It could have stopped the bombardments of Lebanon. We have that much control with the Israelis.

SNOW: I don't think so.

QUESTION: We have gone for collective punishment against all of Lebanon and Palestine. And what's happening -- and that's the perception of the United States.

SNOW: Well, thank you for the Hezbollah view, but I would encourage you...

QUESTION: Nobody's accepting your explanation. What is it say, to call for...

SNOW: I'll tell you, what's interesting is people have. The G-8 was completely united on this. And as you know when it comes to issues of...

QUESTION: Stop the cease-fire? Why?

SNOW: We didn't stop a cease-fire. Let me continue -- I'll tell you what. We didn't even veto -- please get your facts right. What happened was that the G-8 countries made a pretty clear determination that the guilty party here was Hezbollah. You cannot have a cease- fire when you've got the leader of Hezbollah going on his television saying that he perceives total war, he's declaring total war, when they are firing rockets indiscriminately...

(CROSSTALK) SNOW: Please let me finish. I know this is great entertainment, but I want to finish the answer.

The point here is, they're firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas.

The Israelis are responding, as they see fit.

You will note, the countries that disagree with the government of Israel in terms of its general approach on Palestine -- many of our European allies agree that Israel has the right to defend itself, that the government of Lebanon has the right to control all its territory, that Hezbollah is responsible, and that those who support it also bear responsibility.

There is no daylight between the United States and all the allies on this. They all agree on it. This was not difficult...

QUESTION: That's not the point. Why did we veto a cease-fire?

SNOW: We didn't veto a cease-fire.

QUESTION: Yes, we did.

SNOW: No, we didn't. There was no cease-fire.

QUESTION: But wasn't there a resolution?

SNOW: No.

QUESTION: At the U.N.?

SNOW: No. You know what you've done -- I see -- what happened was that there was conversation about, quote, "a cease-fire" that was picked up on some of the microphone when some colorful language made its way into the airwaves yesterday.

(LAUGHTER)

And the president was continuing a conversation he had had earlier with Prime Minister Tony Blair about staging.

Would we like a cease-fire? You bet. Absolutely. We would love to see a cease-fire. But the way you stage it is that you make sure that the people who started this fight, Hezbollah, take their responsibility.

QUESTION: There was no veto at the U.N.?

SNOW: No. There hasn't been a resolution at the V.N. -- the U.N., whatever it is. There haven't been any...

(LAUGHTER)

There hasn't been.

(LAUGHTER)

I've been at (inaudible) in Germany too long. There has been no resolution at the U.N.

QUESTION: But why aren't we proposing a truce, no matter who's to blame?

SNOW: Because...

QUESTION: Because it would stop the killing.

SNOW: Because it wouldn't stop the killing. What it would do is it would say to killers: "You win."

QUESTION: It might save lives.

SNOW: No, I don't think so. I'm glad you raise this. You do not want to engage in a cease-fire that has the practical -- when you say to Israelis: "You guys just stop firing," when you have Hezbollah saying, "We are going to wage total war," because Hezbollah would read that as vindication of its tactics.

And the idea that if you get the right sort of videos on television, and you get the right things going on, you can allow them to behave with impunity, even though they are weakening the sovereign government of Lebanon, they are acting independently; even though they have received...

(CROSSTALK)

SNOW: All right, this is hectoring now.

QUESTION: Tony, one of the things the president did sign onto was calling for restraint for the Israelis...

SNOW: Yes.

QUESTION: ... and watching out for civilian targeting.

SNOW: Correct.

QUESTION: Does the president thus far have any problem with what the Israelis have been targeting, given the fact that they have hit a lot of civilians?

SNOW: They have hit civilians. And one of the things that we have pointed out is that it has been the deliberate tactic of Hezbollah to place assets in civilian areas, including sometimes in the homes of its own members -- as part of the tactics -- so that they would not get hit.

And we lament the death of innocents, whether they be in Israel or in Lebanon or in Gaza or anywhere else. So it is something of which we are keenly aware.

And it is also a reflection of tactics that would have been unthinkable in other conflicts at other times, but there is a deliberate attempt on the part of Hezbollah to place civilians in harm's way, and unfortunately they are.

QUESTION: You have no problems with...

SNOW: I'm not going to get in...

QUESTION: But the president called for restraint.

SNOW: The president has called for restraint. Frankly, unless you or I have been in on meetings that talk about targeting, it is beyond our competence to judge precisely the methods by which they have done it, because neither you nor I know the intelligence that went in to it or the precautions that have been made.

It's a good argumentative question, and I really don't have an answer for it.

QUESTION: Israel's deputy army chief today said that for the current offensive to reach its goals, it's going to take weeks. Is the White House comfortable with that kind of time frame?

SNOW: Again, a statement by generals is one thing. Rather than trying to talk about what we're comfortable with or not, we are uncomfortable with the situation as it is. What we want is the proper -- the cessation of violence in a manner that is consistent with stability, peace, democracy in Lebanon and also an end to terror.

A cease-fire that would leave the status quo ante intact is absolutely unacceptable. A cease-fire that would leave intact a terrorist infrastructure is unacceptable.

So what we're trying to do is work as best we can toward a cease- fire is that going to create not only the conditions, but the institutions for peace and democracy in the region.

QUESTION: How do you respond to -- there has been some criticism that the failure to calm this crisis on the part of the United States thus far may be a suggestion that U.S. policies in the Middle East have failed, because you have isolated countries like Iran and Syria, which might actually be able to help in this situation.

SNOW: I don't think so. I think that you have found in the past that kind gestures have not changed their behavior. What you have in fact, I think it's just the opposite. You have got a success in policy to the extent that you now have Arab states making statements of unprecedented candor when it comes to some of their fellow Arab states.

I would direct you to the comments made the other day by the government of Saudi Arabia. I mean this marks a different era, because it does mean that Arab nations and Muslim nations have stood up and said: Hezbollah is to blame and its sponsors are to blame.

So, far from being a failure of U.S. diplomacy, I think what we've done -- and we've talked about this with regard to North Korea and Iran -- is create once again a coalition of people in the neighborhood, in the region, who have a vested interest in seeing peace and have a vested interest in ensuring the stability of the democratically elected government of Lebanon, they're working together. That has not always been the case, as you well know.

So I think this does, in fact -- look, success ultimately is going to be to resolve this in a way that achieves the goals that we're talking about. But, diplomatically, I think the United States has helped move quite a ways in terms of developing the kind of coalition that did not previously exist.

QUESTION: Do you have any sense right now of how many nations would be willing to participate in some kind of security force?

SNOW: No. That's why I really -- the readout I'm getting is that people are trying to figure out what is the proper way to go forward at the appropriate juncture to provide stability within southern Lebanon. And I honestly don't think anybody has got that all worked out. I'm sure there are plenty of things on the drawing boards involving the government of Lebanon itself, possibly the United Nations. But it's premature to speculate about that sort of thing.

QUESTION: The trip by Rice, yesterday, that was a snippet of a conversation we heard...

SNOW: Right.

QUESTION: Is there anything more that we could have heard then that would have put it in perspective for us?

SNOW: No. Secretary Rice is contemplating a visit, but at this point, it's just that. I mean...

QUESTION: Did you hear the comments from the ambassador to the U.S. from Israel, there are people out there saying this is not the right time. And is that why it doesn't seem as imminent (OFF-MIKE)?

SNOW: Well, again, I think what the president said is: I think Condi's going to the region some time. I believe that was the quote, which would be accurate.

(CROSSTALK)

SNOW: Soon. OK. Soon.

I think that's probably also accurate, but whether that means one day, two days or five days, you know, I'll redirect over to State. She'll be able to provide the due clarity.

QUESTION: Tony, Arab and Muslim nations have never condemned any kind of terrorism against India, Israel or the West, and they have never condemned Osama bin Laden so far.

Now, Hezbollah (inaudible) bombings in India, Mumbai and Kashmir is concerned, they took (inaudible) before G-8 summit in Russia.

SNOW: Right.

QUESTION: And prime minister of India was also there. I understand he met with President Bush and the leaders there.

SNOW: Yes, he did.

QUESTION: My question is that the G-8 did condemn the bombings, but what is the outcome of these bombings? India is being hit every day in Kashmir and elsewhere, because some (inaudible) do not like India's booming economy and the friendship with the United States.

And don't you think India has also right to defend its sovereignty, and they have a right to hit the terrorists across the boarder?

SNOW: I'm not sure that there was any large debate about that. I can tell you, because I was in the meeting with Prime Minister Singh, the first thing the president did was extend his condolences. And the bulk of the meeting was spent on talking about ways to work together to fight the war on terror in India and elsewhere, and in addition to work together also on things like energy independence.

So it did arise.

QUESTION: Tony, a question to Secretary Rice's visit to the region, I know you can't give us a time frame, but can you talk to us about what's at stake here as far as her going and achieving some measure of...

SNOW: I really can't...

QUESTION: ... success just simply because, as Tony Blair pointed out yesterday, he says, "If she goes out, she's got to succeed, as it were, whereas I just can go and talk."

SNOW: Well, you don't go there with an empty satchel; you go there if you have business that you think you can go ahead and transact.

And the United States is busy working on multiple fronts.

I think the first thing you've got to look at is the report back on Thursday from Secretary Annan's delegation to the region. And then you move from there.

We're all waiting, basically, for that to take place. That's the next benchmark in terms of trying to measure where you go in terms of international cooperation.

Again, I would stress that our allies -- and that would include every member of the G-8, especially those who have relations with Iran and Syria -- they have certainly been active. They have been engaged in conversations. And there has been very robust diplomacy on all fronts to try to work toward moving toward peace in the region on this -- at least peace in southern Lebanon. But in terms of trying to lay out any sort of specifics for Secretary Rice, again, I will punt that to the State Department. That's their job.

But I think, you know, you don't simply go there for frequent flyer miles; you go there when you've got business to conduct.

QUESTION: Another question on another subject -- what you announced at the beginning of the briefing. Why did the president -- why is he deciding to speak to the NAACP in person this year for the first time as president?

SNOW: Because he wants to.

(LAUGHTER)

No, I'm serious. He wants to because I think there's a moment of opportunity here. I think the president wants to make the argument that he has had a career that reflects a strong commitment to civil rights.

And I think the other thing he wants to do is to talk about some of the commonalities he has with members of the NAACP. Yes, they have political disagreements. Also, Bruce Gordon, the new head of the NAACP, he and the president have good relations.

And I think it marks an opportunity to have a conversation and, beyond that, I'd say just listen to the remarks.

QUESTION: Why was this such a hard decision for him (inaudible)?

SNOW: It wasn't necessarily a hard decision, it was just hard for us to tell you.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Why is the president now, after all of these years, why now?

SNOW: I just told you, because he wants to.

QUESTION: No, no, no.

SNOW: Yes, yes, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: But the president in 2004 said there was a lot of bad blood between...

SNOW: Well, you know, at some point you say -- I think the president really does see a moment of opportunity. And he sees a moment of opportunity -- you and I had this conversation the other day in this room.

It is clear that in this nation that racism and discrimination are legally unacceptable, but there also remain residues of the past that we have to address. We have to find ways to make sure that the road to opportunity is clear for one and all.

And I think the president wants to make his voice heard. He has an important role to play not only in making the case for civil rights, but maybe more importantly, the case for unity, because as long as we have a nation that in any way is divided along racial lines or where politics become a source of division rather than one of simple debate and trying to perfect democracy, that's a problem.

And the president really believes strongly in trying to foster a sense of true unity that takes you back to the roots of the civil rights movement, to the speech Martin Luther King, Jr. made on August 28th, 1963, to the sacrifices of men and women who paraded not for separatism but for unity, and they paid a toll in blood and in toil and set an example, and in many ways reminded people who had forgotten what was really meant by extending the blessings of liberty to all, that all people were endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights and the creator didn't discriminate on the basis of race.

QUESTION: To follow up on that, is this somewhat of the president's way of atoning after the slow response for Hurricane Katrina last year?

SNOW: No. In fact, one of the things that is interesting is that he and Bruce Gordon have worked together on this and he feels -- did I get that wrong?

(CROSSTALK)

SNOW: What is it?

What?

OK.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: You said I -- I didn't understand.

SNOW: That he and the new head of the NAACP have worked on this. And so it's an important thing.

QUESTION: Will president address in his speech the opposition within the Republican Party to certain parts of the Voting Rights Act, to Section 5?

SNOW: You're going to have to wait and see. I'll let the president give his speech.

QUESTION: (inaudible) to him, though, that some in his party have resisted Section 5?

SNOW: You know what the president has done is, he's made it very clear where he stands on this. He wanted it renewed as written, and that's what he got. The president's position on it is clear, and you can read into the rest of it what you will.

QUESTION: Will the president ordered U.S. troops to be part of any stabilization force sent to be a buffer between Israel and the Hezbollah?

SNOW: Before you go further on that, again, I'm not going to answer particular questions on details because we're just not there yet. All right?

QUESTION: Two questions. First, getting back to what you just said about a moment of opportunity, can you tell us what are the conditions in 2006 that create that moment of opportunity that did not exist in 2004?

SNOW: I don't know, but I think what the president has is -- you know, the president wants to go speak to the NAACP now.

QUESTION: Follow-up: Does he regret his earlier decision not to speak to them?

SNOW: I don't know. I don't think so.

QUESTION: And then, on an unrelated topic, we were told all last week that when you returned from the G-8, the administration would be presenting some kind of legislative package to deal with the issue the Supreme Court raised in the Hamdan case.

SNOW: And it's still being worked on.

Look, there are a lot of people working on it, as you all know. And we're continuing to work on it there.

There've been plenty of press reports, and there were press reports when we were on the road.

We are working toward -- it is inevitable that there will be a legislative package worked out with members of Congress to try to figure out the proper way forward, consistent with the Hamdan decision, to bring to justice those at Guantanamo and those who have been detained who are not members of a regular standing army.

And those efforts continue. And I think if you continue to consult colleagues on the Hill, that you will know that they are putting their best efforts forward and they're working very hard and the White House is working hard on it as well.

I can't give you, you know, a tick-tock or a deadline. It's a devilishly complicated question and we're working to do it because we do want to proceed.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) that could be built around a commission structure that works off the UCMJ...

SNOW: The answer is I don't know. Some people will say, "We're going to use..."

QUESTION: Too many "I don't knows" to my questions.

SNOW: I know. Well, that's because they're unanswerable. You know, for instance, when you talk about the UCMJ commission structure, some people are going to use some pieces of the UCMJ in a commission and call it UCMJ. Some people are going to use some things in a commission under the context of the UCMJ and call it a commission. A lot of this is labeling.

It is clear that people are going to try to figure out acceptable procedures that are going to allow military authorities to proceed. And I think the labeling is less important than getting the result right.

(CROSSTALK)

SNOW: OK, let me give some of the others a chance, and then we'll get back to it.

QUESTION: Tony, I got to ask: Has the president been taking elocution lessons from the vice president, judging from his comments?

(LAUGHTER)

SNOW: I think he's been taking it from you guys.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: And to follow up, you also mentioned there was unity in the G-8 meeting. Obviously, at the end of every meeting there's a communique, and they're all in agreement to communique.

But if you really look at the sequence of events, at the statements made by the various world leaders after each of the discussions, you will see a distinct difference in tone and orientation, especially on the issue of the Middle East. Everybody would seem to be in agreement...

SNOW: Here's the thing. I was in a considerable number of the bilats, and got a chance to see what was going on. There was far more unity than you may have guessed. Sometimes people -- this was not hard. There was not a lot of arm wrestling over this G-8 statement. People were generally agreed, and most of the discussions had to do with fairly minor details within the final statement. So you're just wrong on the characterization of that.

QUESTION: I can give you a couple examples, not only the president's off-color but not off-camera comments expressed the frustration.

SNOW: I thought you said before...

(CROSSTALK)

SNOW: No, no, no, he expressed -- wait, wait, wait.

Number one, you're committing the sin of getting your timing wrong. You just talked about a statement. When the president made his comment, the statement had long been out.

He was expressing his frustration at the fact that he was tired of terrorists lobbing rockets into civilian areas. That's what he was talking about. He wasn't talking about resolutions, he wasn't talking about diplomacy -- he was talking about terror. Go back and read it.

Continue.

QUESTION: About the same time when he was speaking, there was a press conference by Kofi Annan and Prime Minister Blair calling for a cease-fire, calling for U.N. troops. The U.S. obviously was balking on that. The Israelis were saying no, and the U.S. was backing them up on that.

SNOW: Once again, you've...

QUESTION: And the distinction between where everybody else is moving and where the U.S. is kind of standing...

SNOW: No. Nice try. No, you got it wrong.

The sin of anachronism once more, because, as you recall, he was speaking to Prime Minister Blair when the so-called faux pas took place.

The second thing is that if you look at it, there was a debate about staging. There is no question that the United States wants a cease-fire. But you also have to have the staging.

I will take you back to the G-8 resolution because it's clear on that very topic as well. It says, the return of the Israeli soldiers in Gaza and Lebanon unharmed. Then, the end to the shelling Israeli territory. Then you have an end to Israeli occupation and the early withdrawal of forces. So the staging is actually in the statement. And what the president was talking about in his comments is the proper staging.

Furthermore, the United States was in on talks with Secretary General Annan even before the delegation was announced.

Secretary Rice has already discussed her prior conversations with him, and we are perfectly supportive of that mission.

So I think what you're trying to do is either to create the narrative that the United States was isolated on what was an incredibly successful diplomatic visit. During our time in the G-8, the United Nations Security Council passed unanimously a resolution on North Korea. The G-8 not only passed a statement on the Middle East, it reflected the prior statements and approach of the president of the United States throughout.

In addition, there is considerable progress on a unified front toward Iran.

Now, the fact that people sometimes may have different points of emphasis is the way diplomacy works. But results count. And the results do speak for themselves.

QUESTION: On the same note, without preempting this meeting, the bicameral, bipartisan that you're going to host today, can you sum up for us the overall impressions of the president from the G-8, how satisfied he is with the results? What are the results that are most important to you?

SNOW: I think he's very satisfied. Again, I've just mentioned three breakthroughs also if you look at the communique items, whether they be with regard to energy and energy innovation and dealing with pandemics and a number of those things. There's considerable progress.

I mean, unlike most G-8s, you had a lot of things in active motion. You had deliberations going on in North Korea and the U.N. Security Council. You had ongoing efforts to try to figure out how diplomatically to deal with Iran. You had the necessity of responding to ongoing situations in the Middle East. And people responded pretty nimbly.

So I think the president was very happy with the results.

QUESTION: And how well did Russia do its job as chair?

SNOW: I think Russia did fine. Got to work on the microphones, but other than that...

(LAUGHTER)

Lester, unless it's on topic, I'll save for a couple of minutes. Or is this on topic?

QUESTION: You mean, what he just asked? I have a two-part question, Tony.

At almost the same time the president declared that, quote, "Israel has a right to defend itself," the president's secretary of state said it is extremely important that Israel exercise her restraint in its activities of self-defense, the first part.

How does the president believe that it is possible for Israel to be, quote, "restrained" in fighting a two-front war against terrorists?

SNOW: I think she pointed to one of the key things earlier, which is: In a situation like this, you do not want to create undue carnage with civilians.

It has been part and parcel of U.S. doctrine in Iraq, where you use highly targeted munitions and you try to be as precise as possible.

And it's one of the horrible side effects that civilians do get injured and killed, and that is one of the lamentable things.

But when you talk about restraint, what you're talking about is try to hit, to the greatest extent practical, only military targets.

QUESTION: And does he believe that the United States was, quote, "restrained," in killing Al Qaida's master terrorist al-Zarqawi?

SNOW: I think he thought it was appropriate.

QUESTION: Tony, was there a level of disappointment that the G-8 didn't name Iran and Syria as...

SNOW: No. And I know...

QUESTION: ... sponsors of Hezbollah and Hamas?

SNOW: No, no. And I'll tell you why. It's an open secret. I mean, the language was, I think, "those who support them" -- everybody knows who they are.

QUESTION: But President Putin seemed to say that there's not enough evidence to support the fact that Iran and Syria...

SNOW: Well again, I think if you take a look at the statements of people in the neighborhood and the statements of people at the conference -- and I think President Putin understands what the situation is as well -- this we're perfectly comfortable with. That really was no big deal.

QUESTION: And just a last thing: Does the president believe that Syrian President Assad wants instability in the region, as he seemed to indicate to Prime Minister Blair?

SNOW: I think that the president believes that, at this point, President Assad is not doing what he can to create the conditions for stability, which would be to stop housing terrorist organizations and providing safe haven for them and permitting people to terrorist operations -- or at least planning -- on his soil.

QUESTION: A quick question on stem cells.

SNOW: We'll wrap up Iran because I'm sure there will also be some others.

QUESTION: Why did the president turn down Prime Minister's Tony Blair's offer to go to the Middle East?

SNOW: It wasn't an offer. I think you heard, as a part of a conversation, Prime Minister Blair said, "Well, I could go." He's perfectly free to go. But Condoleezza Rice is also going to go at the appropriate time.

But you will also note that in that recorded conversation, there was not any statement on the part of the president or anybody else, "No, Tony, you stay where you are." I mean, the prime minister has control over his schedule and his activities, and is perfectly free to do what he sees fit.

QUESTION: There wasn't any encouragement either. SNOW: I don't think that there was a terribly long conversation. I mean, it was, kind of, an aside in a conversation. This was not a full-scale diplomatic proffer, and I can tell you it was not something that was offered during the bilateral conversation with the two.

QUESTION: Tony, you've got some interesting developments this week. You've got a large Christian convention this week supporting Israel. You've got a lot of pro-Israeli rallies all throughout the country this week.

Does the president think the majority of Americans do support Israel? And will the president be giving any addresses or any messages to these groups?

SNOW: To the latter, I'm aware of none.

To the former, as the president's often said, you don't conduct foreign policy on the basis of opinion polls; you do it on the basis of national interest and your responsibility to enhance the security of the American people. So neither of those are germane.

QUESTION: On this question of stem cell, what's the timing for the veto? If the Senate passes the bill today, how quickly will you...

SNOW: The understanding is it may take till tomorrow to get enrolled. It'll be pretty swift once you have a duly passed bill.

QUESTION: Will there be a ceremony?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: With Iran supporting the Hezbollah, is it now time for direct negotiations between the U.S. and Iran? The fighting...

SNOW: No.

QUESTION: Let me finish.

(LAUGHTER)

SNOW: I'll tell you what, because this is, kind of, wasting time, by reading out a question. If there's anything else you have, but the answer to that is no. And I do want to make sure that I get an opportunity to call on everybody. Is there anything further you want on that? Because the answer is no.

QUESTION: OK.

QUESTION: On stem cells, will there be a ceremony for the veto -- for the signing of the veto statement?

SNOW: No, but there may be a ceremony for the signing of bills.

Everybody seems to think there's one bill. There are three bills that are going to be considered, and two of them await a presidential signature.

You seldom have veto signing ceremonies.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) several, partial-birth abortion...

(CROSSTALK)

SNOW: Well, the president has made clear what his views are on this. I'm not aware that we are going to have a ceremony for a veto. We are going to have the exercise of a veto.

(CROSSTALK)

SNOW: ... going to be a picture of a veto.

QUESTION: Someone taking a picture of him not signing?

SNOW: No, I'm not...

(LAUGHTER)

They're not going to hand out ceremonial pens. They're not going to, you know...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Invisible ink.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... signed a veto statement in public and called it a veto ceremony. And the question was, do you anticipate something like that for this?

SNOW: No, but I appreciate the history of veto statements.

QUESTION: Can you remind us why the president believes that it is not appropriate to use -- that it would be more appropriate for stem cells to be thrown away than to be used in this case for medical research?

SNOW: I don't think that's the choice that the president is presented. What the president has said is that he doesn't want human life destroyed.

Now, you may consider that insignificant. But the president has said. And you have had in a number of cases the snowflake babies where some of those fetuses have in fact been brought to term and have become human beings.

The president believes strongly that for the purpose of research it's inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder. He's one of them.

Furthermore, it is worth pointing out that this government did make available already existing lines -- to get back to your question -- there were existing lines. The most recent figures we have are 2004. But 85 percent of all the embryonic stem cell research on Earth was conducted using those lines.

There is nothing that makes embryonic stem cell research illegal. It simply says that the federal government will not finance it.

As you know, there are ongoing efforts in some states, including, I think, California and Massachusetts, to use state money for it. And I dare say if people think that there's a market for it, they're going to support it handsomely.

The simple answer is he thinks murder's wrong. And he has said.

QUESTION: The legislation he's going to veto deals with thousands and thousands of embryos that will be thrown out, destroyed.

SNOW: Well, that is a tragedy, but the president is not going to get on the slippery slope of taking something that is living and making it dead for the purpose of research.

QUESTION: Tony, how far on the back burner has the situation between Israel and Hezbollah pushed international efforts in regard to imposing sanctions on Iran over their nuclear policy?

SNOW: I'll get back to the Nick Burns. You guys seem to think that if one thing is going on or one thing is leading the news, that everybody is not dealing with the other.

As I just said, I believe that there have been ongoing and active diplomatic efforts regarding Iran.

SNOW: And I expect that you're going to see, before too long, some results of that. So the answer is, it hasn't pushed it off at all. People have been busily engaged also in working that issue.

QUESTION: Do you think it might have been part of the, a factor in Hezbollah's activities? Was it to divert attention?

SNOW: I'm not going to try to read the mind of a terrorist organization. It's just, I think it's fruitless in this case.

QUESTION: Can you say what that message the president is hoping to send to the public by making the stem cell bill the first veto of his administration? Can you also explain why after five years not vetoing any legislation, he decided to change that strategy.

SNOW: He hasn't changed his strategy. There have been 141 veto threats during the course of this administration, quite often on fairly complex bills. You saw it with the supplemental appropriation recently, where he said, you spend over this amount of money, and we're simply not going to go there; I'll veto it.

In the vast majority of cases, Congress has come back and given him what he's wanted this.

This a freestanding bill, and it's a freestanding bill that goes a place that the president has always said that he would not go. He is fulfilling a promise that he has long made and he is keeping it.

I think, you know, it's tempting to say, "Aha, he's picking this out for his first veto."

There has not been, at least as far as I know, a comparable period within this administration where there has been an issue on which the president has made it absolutely clear he's going to veto a bill.

Also, let me reiterate, there will be two other bill signings with regard to stem cell research. There is an enormous amount of progress being made in adult stem cells.

I'll give you a personal example. My hair is darker than it was a year ago. After I had chemo, my hair fell out. It grew back. You know why? Adult stem cells. No lie. I was told by the guy that runs the operation at Georgetown.

The fact is they're studying to try to figure out how it is that adult stem cells, blood cord and other cells are capable of helping in healing.

The president is not opposed to stem cell research, he's all for it. But is there one kind of research, and that is that which involves the destruction of human life that he does not think is appropriate for the federal government to finance. He's been absolutely clear about it. There is no shading in it. Congress has passed a bill that does that, and he feels honor-bound to veto it.

QUESTION: Just to clarify something on immigration. The president of Mexico, in his brief chat with the president of the U.S., (inaudible) that President Bush told him that there's no way to approve immigration before elections in November 7th.

But then today, in his plane, the president of Mexico said there is a document by the White House saying there is a chance to approve the bill before the elections.

So we just want to clarify.

SNOW: Look, I'm going to clarify, because I asked the president about this. He did not tell the president of Mexico that there was no chance that this was going to be passed before the elections. The president of Mexico may have misheard.

He said that there may be some timing issues before Labor Day, because you have got three weeks before Congress leaves. But the president is still committed to comprehensive immigration reform, and getting it done as quickly as possible. And he's working with Congress on that, and members of the administration are doing the same.

So I want to make it clear. Again, this is like the stem cell veto. He was absolutely clear about it. He did not make the comment to the president of Mexico.

So the president may have misunderstood what President Bush had to say.

QUESTION: I don't want to split hairs on this, but wasn't the report that he said it was unlikely that there would be, not that there was no chance of...

SNOW: Either way, it's a misstatement. I mean the president, again, was very clear in saying that it would be unlikely before Labor Day, just because of the natural legislative calendar.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

SNOW: No, he didn't say that.

QUESTION: Tony, you sit here in a lot of the private meetings. Did you hear anything that maybe Tony Blair didn't hear that would give cause for optimism about the Doha round?

SNOW: It's going to be tough. I mean, I think there are tough negotiations going on right now. And there were very candid conversations.

Now I must tell you, I was in on some of the early conversations, for instance in Germany and elsewhere, but none of us were in the meetings with the G-8 leaders. So I am not going to pretend to be able to give you an accurate readout.

But I do know that there was some very candid talk about what needs to go on. And among the G-20 countries, and among a lot of Europeans and among the United States, there is this strong desire to get this thing done, not only because free trade is important but also, for the developing world, creating the right market conditions is crucial.

And so I don't want to be making predictions. It is clear that everybody is going to have to bargain in good faith to try to reach an agreement here. I don't want to characterize what the chances are because you know how negotiations are. Quite often they're characterized as absolutely impossible until the last minute when suddenly, boom, everything happens.

QUESTION: How does a call for the immediate cease-fire preserve the status quo; 1559 is still there and enjoys more consensus.

SNOW: You tell me if Hezbollah is going to stop firing rockets.

QUESTION: But 1559 is there...

SNOW: Well, if 1559 is there, that means Hezbollah should not be there, doesn't it? It means that Hezbollah should not be acting as an independent military force operating independently of the sovereign government of Lebanon in violation of the 1559 stipulations against either foreign involvement or, in this particular case, militias.

So it would mean that at least on one party of a cease-fire, 1559 wasn't even a consideration. If 1559 were fully in force, we wouldn't be talking about this right now. QUESTION: How do you respond to people say that Israel now is implementing it unilaterally.

SNOW: I wouldn't even try. I mean it strikes me as being beside the point, because what really is the point is that Hezbollah decided unilaterally that they would go ahead and violate 1559 and thereby place in jeopardy a lot of innocent people in Lebanon, not to mention the government of Lebanon itself.

QUESTION: The attorney general has told the Senate Judiciary Committee that President Bush personally blocked Justice Department lawyers from pursuing an investigation of the warrantless wiretapping program. If he's correct, and he did say this, why did the president do that?

SNOW: Number one, it's a highly classified program, and due to the sensitive nature he does approve all non-operational (ph) requests to be read into it.

There were proper channels for doing legal review. In effect, the legal review is done every 45 days and the attorney general himself was involved in it. The Office of Professional Responsibility was not the proper venue for conducting that.

What the president did not say, and this is also important, is that there should not be review, because there was; that there should not be regular review, because there was.

What he was saying is that in a case of a highly classified program, you need to keep the number of people exposed to it tight for reasons of national security. And that's what he did.

QUESTION: Didn't those lawyers already have clearance, though?

SNOW: Again, whether they had clearance or not, the president made his determination.

And that was not the appropriate venue. There was already an appropriate venue for doing this. And that had been specified by executive order.

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