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YOUR WORLD TODAY
Journalists, Civilians Wounded While Trying to Flee Tyre, Lebanon in Convoy; Tony Blair and George Bush Hold Press Conference
Aired July 28, 2006 - 12:13 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jonathan Mann.
We're going to move over to Hala in Beirut -- Hala Gorani, and Fionnuala Sweeney in Haifa, for our coverage of the crisis in the Middle East.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Welcome to our coverage of the conflict in the Middle East.
I'm Hala Gorani, joining you from Beirut, Lebanon.
FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: And I'm Fionnuala Sweeney, in Haifa, northern Israel.
A welcome, too, to our viewers in the United States and around the world.
Well, as demands around the world grow for an immediate cease- fire, Britain's prime minister tells the United States there's an urgent need to speed the pace of diplomacy.
Here's the latest.
Tony Blair and George W. Bush are meeting at the White House right now. Mr. Blair is expected to push for a U.N. resolution on the crisis. We'll hear from them within the hour.
Hezbollah is firing more rockets at Israel, including what it says is a new kind that can go beyond Haifa. Five rockets hit Afula, south of Haifa, but caused no injuries. More than 80 rockets hit other areas earlier.
Israel has dropped more than 100 bombs on what it says were Hezbollah targets across Lebanon, including rocket-launching sites. Homes and roads were also crushed in south Lebanese villages, killing as many as 12 people.
Aid groups say the bombardment is making it impossible to get food and supplies to civilians in the south. One convoy trying to evacuate villagers was hit Friday, wounding three people.
And the U.N. has abandoned two outposts in south Lebanon days after four U.N. observers were killed when their base was bombed.
GORANI: Now, as Israel keeps up its bombardment of southern Lebanon, as we heard Fionnuala mention there, it's becoming harder and harder for aid agencies to get food and medical supplies to those who need it in that region. And there's also a refugee crisis brewing. Tyre has been the focus of most of the Israeli military action, and that's where we find our Ben Wedeman, who joins us now live.
What's happened today, Ben?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, basically, the news out of here was this convoy that was hit somewhere to the south of here. This was a convoy, in fact, we were supposed to go on, but there were so many journalists in it that we decided to not. But apparently they did run into some trouble, some sort of tank rounds landing near it.
Several journalists were slightly wounded, as well as some civilians in that case, but really the experience of that convoy underscores the difficulty of getting aid or people around southern Lebanon, and it underscores the increasing concerns of release -- relief officials about the increasingly precarious humanitarian situation in south Lebanon.
WEDEMAN (voice over): A red cross on a white bed sheet. Staff at Tyre's Nejam (ph) hospital hope Israeli jets will see their flag and spare them.
Just a few minute away by car, smoke rises from another airstrike. People head north by whatever means possible.
No one knows how many people are still hunkered down in their homes in southern Lebanon. Hundreds of thousands have already fled north.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The situation over there, it's very bad right now. Everything is running out right now. There is nothing there.
No food, no electric, no water, no medicine. Nothing. A lot of old people there, too.
WEDEMAN: Refugees gather at Tyre's rest house hotel, where local relief workers put them on buses to Beirut. They're exhausted, scared, desperate to move on.
Hanan Assi escaped the south with her family and $300 in her pocket. On a borrowed mobile phone she assures a relative everyone is safe.
HANAN ASSI, SOUTH LEBANON RESIDENT: There are still a lot of people there. There are still a lot of people who need help. (INAUDIBLE), and everybody -- it's just -- it's terrible. They need some help.
WEDEMAN: The danger of travel by road is everywhere to be seen, and fuel is in short supply because many of the gas stations have been bombed. (on camera): People who make it this far to the northern edge of Tyre have a good chance of reaching safety, but relief officials are far more concerned about people stuck in remote villages in the far south who just can't get out.
(voice over): The United Nations, the Red Cross and other groups are doing what they can, but in the midst of war their hands are tied.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are people who have been wounded and who have not been evacuated until now. And one other big issue, there are people who have been killed. There are cars with dead bodies aboard. Nobody has been able to get there to get them out and to give theme a decent funeral.
WEDEMAN: So the living take their chances and go.
WEDEMAN: And Hala, the Red Cross -- the Red Cross officials I spoke to did say that they're worried about a variety of things. Many of these villages in the south have not been resupplied with any form of food in days. The electricity has been cut off. So they're not able to pump water, so they're drinking dirty water.
They say they're now worried about outbreaks of diseases and things like that. And they simply cannot, or it is very difficult for them to reach these areas. And it appears that this fighting could go on for more days, possibly weeks. And they say these situations can just only get worse -- Hala.
GORANI: Ben, Tyre has been shelled for days. Give us a sense of what the Israeli military is still targeting in that coastal town.
WEDEMAN: Well, let me be more specific. They're not necessarily bombarding the town on a constant basis. Really, the bombardment is to the east of here and to the south, from which -- areas from which Katyusha rockets have been launched. We've seen them being launched.
There have only been about three major strikes within the city itself. I mean, for instance, on Wednesday, there was this 10-story building that was hit. Initially, the Israelis said that they were targeting Nabil Kaouk, who was the commander, they say, for Hezbollah in south Lebanon. Hezbollah denies it.
Then, the latest version from the Israelis is that they hit -- or they were targeting the missile command center for south Lebanon that was responsible for those missiles, those Katyushas being fired at Haifa -- Hala.
GORANI: All right. Ben Wedeman live in Tyre.
Thank you, Ben -- Fionnuala.
SWEENEY: Well, Hala, efforts to put an end to the fighting are gaining strength. The British prime minister, Tony Blair, is meeting U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House this hour. So far, Mr. Blair has supported the U.S. position on the crisis, but he now faces growing domestic pressure to push for a speedy cease-fire.
A Blair spokesman said a U.N. Security Council vote could happen as early as next week.
Robin Oakley reports.
ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN EUROPEAN POLITICAL EDITOR (voice over): Leaving once more for the White House, Tony Blair could be forgiven for wondering, "What's it going to cost me this time?" Almost every time he visits President Bush his opinion poll ratings fall.
It certainly didn't help when the two met at this year's G-8 summit and the president, who greeted him as, "Yo, Blair," spurned Blair's offer of help as a Middle East envoy. The Bush's poodle taunts at home redoubled. Two-thirds of Britons tell pollsters they want less of an echo of U.S. policies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a sense that Tony Blair is too close to George Bush, he doesn't think for himself, he doesn't act separately in British interests. They think Tony Blair is too much in love with George Bush's policies.
OAKLEY: Blair's close support for President Bush on Iraq lost him many friends in Britain, and his refusal, along with the president, to call for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon has given their arguments a new twist.
Many Britons regard the civilian deaths inflicted by Israeli bombing and the devastation of Lebanon's infrastructure as a disproportionate response to Hezbollah's kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers earlier this month. Critics include ministers in Blair's own government and his former adviser on foreign policy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We appear to be saying that we think it is tolerable that Israel should be allowed day after day after day to bomb innocent civilians and destroy hundreds of thousands of life in Lebanon. I do not think that is either an ethical position for the prime minister to take nor do I think actually strategically, in terms of the long-term peace in the Middle East, is it a wise position to take.
OAKLEY: Even Britain's cautious foreign secretary has complained the U.S. has breached formalities in shipping bombs to Israel through Prestwick Airport near Glasgow. And Mr. Blair is now calling for more urgency at the United Nations in working for a cease-fire, but few diplomats expect such a fervent ally of the U.S. to suddenly change his tune.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tony Blair has Supreme confidence has own judgment, so even if the opinion poll show that a majority of British people think he is wrong, he, to the contrary, will think he is right and that they are wrong.
OAKLEY: Tony Blair has never wavered in his belief that it's in British interests to maintain the strongest possible relationship with the U.S., but he's paid a political price for keeping close to a U.S. president who's never been popular in Britain. And that seems unlikely to change whatever the next moves on the Middle East.
OAKLEY: British diplomats are hopeful that they will be pushing at an open door in terms of U.S. reaction now to a U.N. resolution next week. We'll know more about that when President Bush and Tony Blair emerge to reveal something of their discussions today -- Hala.
SWEENEY: Actually, Robin, it's Fionnuala in Haifa here. But I'd like to ask you a question, if I may.
The U.S. from the get-go of this conflict has been very resolute in terms of the conditions it wants to see before a cease-fire can be in place. So what kind of deal do you think can be reached?
OAKLEY: Well, the kind of deal British diplomats are talking about is for an agreed cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon, followed by the immediate imposition of a border force, an international border force, to be followed with a second stage larger intervention force which would help in terms of the disarming of Hezbollah, of the assertion of the authority of the Lebanon government forces, and a continued international presence for some time to come -- Fionnuala.
SWEENEY: All right. Thank you very much, indeed.
Robin Oakley there reporting live from London.
Well, now to the other front in the Middle East crisis. Israeli forces withdrawing from the northern section of Gaza after a fierce two-day offensive.
Israeli troops have moved in and out of Gaza several times since June 25th, when Palestinian militants kidnapped an Israeli army corporal in a cross-border raid. The Gaza operations have been largely overshadowed by the conflict along the Israeli-Lebanese border.
The Israeli military continues to pound Lebanon, but is there a clear political strategy to back them up?
Well, coming up, we talk to a member of Israel's cabinet.
GORANI: And we visit a beach in Lebanon whose name means white sand, but recent events paint a different picture.
Stay with us.
SWEENEY: Welcome back to this special edition of YOUR WORLD TODAY.
I'm Fionnuala Sweeney, reporting from Haifa, Israel. GORANI: I'm Hala Gorani, reporting from the Lebanese capital, Beirut.
Now, we are waiting on a news conference in Washington, D.C., with the U.S. president, George W. Bush, and the U.K. prime minister, Tony Blair. We will go to that live as soon as it starts.
In the meantime, there have been demonstrations around the world against the Israeli -- the Israeli action in southern Lebanon. Public outcry against Israel's offensive into Lebanon is increasing in many quarters. Outside the Aegean meeting in Malaysia, protesters gathered to denounce Israeli military action.
Before I continue with this, let me just tell you that we can confirm that a Hezbollah rocket has hit a target in Nahariya, and we will get more details on that as soon as they come in. Now, that is according to The Associated Press.
In the meantime, you see the pictures there on your screen. Some of the demonstrators broke through a police cordon and made their way to the entrance of the convention center, where leaders were meeting, but no clashes or injuries were reported.
Now, in India, hundreds of Muslim protesters gathered at the main mosque in New Delhi. They shouted anti-Israeli, as well as anti- American slogans, and many walked over an Israeli flag -- you see it there -- that was laid on the mosque's stairway.
The U.S. embassy was the scene of the protest in Moscow. Hundreds turned out at the embassy to demonstrate against U.S. support for Israel. Many protesters held Lebanese flags in a show of support for the civilian victims of Israel's bombing in Lebanon, the demonstrators said -- Fionnuala.
Well, back here in Israel, a lot of concern about the military campaign that's underway. It's obviously a priority in this country.
And earlier, I spoke to Isaac Herzog. He's a member of Israel's security cabinet. And I began by asking him if perhaps Israel hadn't underestimated Hezbollah's capabilities.
ISSAC HERZOG, ISRAELI SECURITY CABINET MEMBER: Israel has not underestimated Hezbollah. We've said all along that this is a very well-equipped organization. And, in fact, as the chief of staff reported yesterday to the security cabinet, it's behaving and been armed almost like a modern army, with all of the relevant new technologies and equipment. And we see it, of course, in the missiles that are here and in the infrastructure that they have.
SWEENEY: But more than 150 rockets fell on Israel on Thursday alone, and more are falling today. Are you able to diminish their ability to strike Israel?
HERZOG: Absolutely, yes. We are diminishing it by the hour. We have focussed on their targets. We have focussed on their launches, on their command and control post, on their infrastructures. We've killed various commanders and hundreds of their soldiers.
Look, we are dealing with a vicious organization that is stationed among civilians. Imagine how Lebanon would look like when these guys are out of there, and tranquillity can be restored. I must tell you I was today in Murar (ph). It's an Arab, Jewish -- Christian and Jews' village. A 15-year-old girl was killed there a couple of days ago. You see the hundreds -- the tens of thousands of little Jews that have been sent all over the place with missiles produced in Syria and Iran.
SWEENEY: Let me ask you, is Israel finding itself unwittingly in an expanded war, whether it likes it or not?
HERZOG: Israel finds itself in a major challenge which is aimed to change the pattern of behavior in the region and aimed to diminish substantially the capabilities of one of the worst terrorist organizations in the world. It takes time. Everything of this nature...
SWEENEY: Yes, we know your objectives, but on day 17...
HERZOG: We are doing our best to...
SWEENEY: ... of this campaign, it would seem that Israel is moving involuntarily from a limited war into an expanded war. Whether you like it or not, you're finding yourself moving from what you had thought to a contained, limited exercise into an extended, expanded war.
HERZOG: No, I beg to differ, with all due respect. In order to do this operation, to reach its objectives, you must also take, of course, infantry and land operations. That's the way you do it. You go in and you -- of course, you dismantle the infrastructure. Now, as you know, the security cabinet yesterday did not expand the operation. It simply instructed to go on with the original objectives and original timeline.
SWEENEY: May I ask you, finally, the cabinet did indeed meet yesterday, decided not to expand the ground operation, but did decide to call up more reservists. Is calling up the reservists a means of a catalyst for the diplomatic process?
HERZOG: First of all, it's taken out of various reasons. One is to refresh the soldiers and change them a bit -- soldiers that are in Gaza and soldiers that are in the north. And of course, as precautionary steps and as a tool for whichever development. If we decide to go into Southern Lebanon in a much larger scale, which we may do, and we keep this option open.
We still hope that the international pressure on Lebanon and all of the key players in the region will bring about the counters (ph) of the day, which are really apparent to all of us, which means full sovereignty of Lebanon, dismantling of Hezbollah from Southern Lebanon and its capabilities of attacking Israel. And of course, returning the soldiers that were kidnapped safely back home. We really would like to conclude this operation successfully and, of course, bring peace and tranquillity to the region.
SWEENEY: Well, Isaac Herzog there, speaking to me earlier. He is Israel's tourism minister and he's also a member of the internal security cabinet.
Now you're looking at pictures there of a news conference at the White House that's about to get underway shortly. We're expecting interesting things, Hala, from Tony Blair and George W. Bush.
GORANI: This is one issue, of course, Fionnuala, on which Tony Blair has perhaps not stood side by side in the way he has with Iraq over the current crisis in the Middle East. It will be interesting to see, Fionnuala, whether the two men will come to an agreement.
SWEENEY: Well, also, Tony Blair under great domestic political pressure at home, we understand, as it always is the case with Tony Blair that George W. Bush is not the most popular man among the British public and Tony Blair often seen as a puppet.
Here come the two men now. Let's hear what they have to say.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Prime Minister Tony Blair, welcome back to the White House. As you know, we've got a close relationship. You tell me what you think. You share with me your perspective. And you let me know when the microphone is on.
Today, the prime minister and I talked about the ways we're working to advance freedom and human dignity across the world.
Prime Minister Blair and I discussed the crisis in the Middle East. In Lebanon, Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian sponsors are willing to kill and to use violence to stop the spread of peace and democracy, and they're not going to succeed.
The prime minister and I have committed our governments to a plan to make every effort to achieve a lasting peace out of this crisis.
Our top priorities in Lebanon are providing immediate humanitarian relief, achieving an end to the violence, ensuring the return of displaced persons and assisting with reconstruction.
We recognize that many Lebanese people have lost their homes, so we'll help rebuild the civilian infrastructure that will allow them to return home safely.
Our goal is to achieve a lasting peace, which requires that a free, democratic and independent Lebanese government be empowered to exercise full authority over its territory.
We want a Lebanon free of militias and foreign interference, and a Lebanon that governs its own destiny, as is called for by U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1680.
We agree that a multinational force must be dispatched to Lebanon quickly to augment a Lebanese army as it moves to the south of that country.
An effective multinational force will help speed delivery of humanitarian relief, facilitate the return of displaced persons, and support the Lebanese government as it asserts full sovereignty over its territory and guards its borders.
We're working quickly to achieve these goals. Tomorrow, Secretary Rice will return to the region. She will work with the leaders of Israel and Lebanon to seize this opportunity to achieve lasting peace and stability for both of their countries.
Next week, the U.N. Security Council will meet as well. Our goal is a Chapter 7 resolution setting out a clear framework for cessation of hostilities on an urgent basis, and mandating the multinational force.
Also at the United Nations, senior officials from many countries will meet to discuss the design and deployment of the multinational force.
Prime Minister Blair and I agree that this approach gives the best hope to end the violence and create lasting peace and stability in Lebanon.
This approach will demonstrate the international community's determination to support the government of Lebanon and defeat the threat from Hezbollah and its foreign sponsors.
This approach will make possible what so many around the world want to see: the end of Hezbollah's attacks on Israel, the return of Israeli soldiers taken hostage by the terrorists, the suspension of Israel's operations in Lebanon, and the withdrawal of Israeli forces.
This is a moment of intense conflict in the Middle East. Yet our aim is to turn it into a moment of opportunity and a chance for a broader change in the region.
Prime Minister Blair and I remain committed to the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
This vision has been embraced by Israel, the Palestinians and many others throughout the region and the world. And we will make every effort to make this vision a reality.
The United States is committed to using all of its influence to seize this moment to build a stable and democratic Middle East.
We also talked about other regions and other challenges and other conflicts.
The prime minister and I each met with the prime minister of Iraq this week. The U.S. and the U.K. are working together to support the prime minister and his unity government, and we will continue to support that government.
Afghanistan's people and their freely elected government can also count on our support.
Our two nations urge Iran to accept the E.U.-3 offer, which also has the backing of Russia, China and the United States. We agree that the Iranian regime will not be allowed to develop or acquire nuclear weapons.
The suffering in Darfur deserves the name of genocide. Our two nations support a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur, which is the best hope for the people in that region.
I want to thank you for coming. It's good to discuss these urgent matters with you. We will continue to consult with each other as events unfold in the Middle East and beyond.
The alliance between Britain and America is stronger than ever because we share the same values, we share the same goals and we share the same determination to advance freedom and to defeat terror across the world.
Mr. Prime Minister?
TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER OF GREAT BRITAIN: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for your welcome to the White House once again.
First of all, I'd like to say some words about the present Middle East crisis, and then talk about some of the other issues that we discussed.
What is happening in the Middle East at the moment is a complete tragedy for Lebanon, for Israel and for the wider region. And the scale of destruction is very clear.
There are innocent lives that have been lost, both Lebanese and Israeli. There are hundreds of thousands of people that have been displaced from their homes, again, both in Lebanon and in Israel. And it's been a horrendous and terrible setback for Lebanon's democracy.
We shouldn't forget how this began, how it started. In defiance of the U.N. Resolution 1559, Hezbollah for almost two years has been fortifying and arming militia down in the south of Lebanon, when it is the proper and democratically elected government of Lebanon and its armed forces who should have control of that area, as they should of the whole of Lebanon.
They then, in defiance of that U.N. resolution, crossed the U.N. Blue Line. As you know, they kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. They killed eight more.
Then, of course, there was the retaliation by Israel, and there are rockets being fired from the south of Lebanon into the north of Israel the entire time. So we know how this situation came about and how it started. And the question is, now, how to get it stopped and get it stopped with the urgency that the situation demands.
Since our meeting in St. Petersburg for the G-8, we have been working hard on a plan to ensure that this happens. And as well as, obviously, the consultations that I've had with President Bush, I've spoken to President Chirac, Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey, the president of the European Union, the prime minister of Finland and many, many others.
And as the president's just outlined to you, I think there are three essential steps that we can take in order to ensure that there is the cessation of hostilities that we all want to see.
The first is I welcome very much the fact that Secretary Rice will go back to the region tomorrow. She will have with her the package of proposals in order to get agreement both from the government of Israel and the government of Lebanon on what is necessary to happen in order for this crisis to stop.
Secondly, we are bringing forward to Monday the meeting in the United Nations about the international stabilization force. And again, this is something we've been discussing with various different countries over the past few days.
The absolute vital importance of that force is that it is able to ensure that the agreement the international community comes to in respect of Lebanon is enforced and that we have the government of Lebanon able to make its writ run fully with its own armed forces in the south of Lebanon.
And then, thirdly, as the president has just said to you, we want to see tabled and agreed a U.N. resolution as early as possible that will allow the cessation of hostilities. Provided that resolution is agreed and acted upon, we can, indeed, bring an end to this crisis.
But nothing will work unless, as well as an end to the immediate crisis, we put in place the measures necessary to prevent it occurring again.
That is why I return at every opportunity to the basis of the United Nations resolution, 1559, almost two years ago now, that said precisely what should happen in order to make sure that the southern part of Lebanon was not used as a base for armed militia.
The purpose of what we are doing, therefore, is to bring about, yes, the cessation of hostilities, which we want to see as quickly and as urgently as possible; but also to put in place a framework that allows us to stabilize the situation for the medium and longer term.
In addition to that, we both of us believe it is important that we take the opportunity to ensure that the Middle East peace process, which has been in such difficulty over the past few months, is given fresh impetus toward the two-state solution that we and the international community want to see. In the end, that is of fundamental importance also to the stability and peace of the region.
Now, in addition to all of these things, obviously we discussed Iraq, as the president has just said, and the work that our troops are doing in Iraq and indeed in Afghanistan -- and if I might, let me once again pay tribute to the quite extraordinary professionalism, dedication, bravery and commitment of the armed forces of both the United States and the United Kingdom, and the many other countries that are working there with us.
In addition to that, as the president indicated to you, we discussed the situation in the Sudan. We will have an opportunity to discuss other issues later -- notably, obviously, the World Trade talks and other such things.
But I want to emphasize -- just in concluding my opening remarks -- by referring once again to the absolutely essential importance of ensuring that not merely do we get the cessation of hostilities now in the Lebanon and in respect of Israel, but that we take this opportunity -- since we know why this has occurred, we know what started it, we know what the underlying forces are behind what has happened in the past few weeks -- we take this opportunity to set out and achieve a different strategic direction for the whole of that region, which will allow the government of Lebanon to be in control of its country; Lebanon to be the democracy its people want; and also allow us to get the solution in respect of Palestine that we have wanted so long to see.
If we are able, out of what has been a tragedy, a catastrophe for many of the people in the region, to achieve such a thing, then we will have turned what has been a situation of tragedy into one of opportunity.
And we intend to do that. Thank you.
BUSH: Three questions a side.
QUESTION: Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, with support apparently growing among the Arab population, both Shiite and Sunni, for Hezbollah, by bounds, is there a risk that every day that goes by without a cease-fire will tip this conflict into a wider war?
And, Mr. President, when Secretary Rice goes back to the region, would she have any new instructions, such as meeting with Syrians?
BUSH: Her instructions are to work with Israel and Lebanon to get a -- to come up with an acceptable U.N. Security Council resolution that we can table next week.
And, secondly, it's really important for people to understand that the terrorists are trying to stop the advance of freedom. And, therefore, it's essential that we do what's right -- not necessarily what appears to be immediately popular.
There's a lot of suffering in Lebanon because Hezbollah attacked Israel. There's a lot of suffering in the Palestinian territory because militant Hamas is trying to stop the advance of democracy. There is suffering in Iraq because terrorists are trying to spread sectarian violence and stop the spread of democracy.
And now is the time for the free world to work to create the conditions so that people everywhere can have hope. And those are the stakes. That's what we face right now. We've got a plan to deal with this immediate crisis.
It's one of the reasons the prime minister came, to talk about that plan. But the stakes are larger than just Lebanon.
Isn't it interesting that when Prime Minister Olmert starts to reach out to President Abbas to develop a Palestinian state, militant Hamas creates the conditions so that, you know, there's a crisis, and then Hezbollah follows up?
Isn't it interesting, as a democracy takes hold in Iraq, that Al Qaeda steps up its efforts to murder and bomb in order to stop the democracy?
And so one of the things that the people in the Middle East must understand is that we're working to create the conditions of hope and opportunity for all of them. And we'll continue to do that. This is the challenge of the 21st century.
BLAIR: And it's very obvious what the strategy of terrorism is, and of the actions that Hezbollah took. I mean, their strategy is to commit an outrage that provokes a reaction and then, on the back of the reaction, to mobilize extreme elements and then try and create a situation which even moderate people feel drawn to their cause. That's the strategy.
And you quite rightly say: Well, isn't there a danger that the Arab streets and people in Arab and Muslim countries become more sympathetic to Hezbollah as a result of what's happened? That is their strategy. How do we counter it?
We counter it, one, by having our own strategy to bring the immediate crisis to an end, which we do. That is what is important about the secretary of state visiting the region, getting an agreement, tabling it to the United Nations, getting the endorsement of the United Nations, having an international stabilization force to move into the situation.
We've got to deal with the immediate situation. But then, as the president was saying a moment or two ago, we've then got to realize what has happened in the past few weeks is not an isolated incident; it is part of a bigger picture.
Now, I'm going to say some more things about this in the days to come. But we really will never understand how we deal with this situation unless we understand that there is a big picture out in the Middle East, which is about reactionary and terrorist groups trying to stop what the vast majority of people in the Middle East want, which is progress toward democracy, liberty, human rights, the same as the rest of us.
Now, that's the battle that's going on. And, yes, it is always very difficult when something like this happens, as it has happened over the past few weeks. So we've got to resolve the immediate situation. But we shouldn't be in any doubt at all that will be a temporary respite unless we put in place the longer-term framework.
QUESTION: Mr. President, you spoke of having a plan to rebuild houses in Lebanon. Wouldn't the people of Lebanon rather know when you're going to tell the Israelis to stop destroying the houses?
And, Prime Minister, you talked of having a plan today. But isn't the truth that you and the president believe that Israel is on the right side in the war on terror, and you want them to win this war, not to stop it?
BUSH: Look, we care deeply about the people whose lives have been affected in Lebanon, just like we care deeply about the people whose lives have been affected in Israel.
There's over a million people in Israel that are, you know, are threatened by this consistent rocket attack coming out of Lebanon. And, yes, we want to help people rebuild their lives; absolutely. But we also want to address the root causes of the problem. And the root cause of the problem is you've got Hezbollah that is armed and willing to fire rockets into Israel.
A Hezbollah, by the way -- that, I firmly believe, is backed by Iran and encouraged by Iran. And so, for the sake of long-term stability, we've got to deal with this issue now.
And, you know, listen, the temptation is to say, "It's too tough. Let's just try to solve it quickly with something that won't last. Let's just get it off the TV screens."
But that won't solve the problem. And it's certainly not going to help the Lebanese citizens have a life that is normal and peaceful.
What is necessary is to help the Siniora government. And one way to help the Siniora government is to make aid available to help rebuild the houses that were destroyed.
Another way to help the Siniora government is to implement 1559, which is the disarmament of armed militia inside his country.
And I -- look, we care deeply about the lives that have been affected, on both sides of this issue -- just like I care deeply about the innocent people who are being killed in Iraq, and people being denied a state in the Palestinian territory.
But make no mistake about it: It is the goal and aims of the terrorist organizations to stop that type of advance. That's what they're trying to do. They're trying to evoke sympathy for themselves.
They're not sympathetic people. They're violent, cold-blooded killers who are trying to stop the advance of freedom.
And this is the calling of the 21st century, it seems like to me. And now's the time to confront the problem.
And, of course, we're going to help the people in Lebanon rebuild their lives. And -- but, as Tony said, this conflict started out of the blue with two Israeli soldiers kidnapped and rockets being fired across the border.
Now, we have urged restraint. We've made it clear that we care about wanton destruction. On the other hand, in my judgment, it would be a big mistake not to solve the underlying problems. Otherwise, everything will seem fine, and then you'll be back at a press conference saying: How come you didn't solve the underlying problems?
BLAIR: We feel deeply for people in Lebanon and people in Israel who are the innocent casualties of this conflict. Of course we do. And we want it to stop, and we want it to stop now.
And what we're putting forward today is actually a practical plan that would lead to a U.N. resolution -- could be early next week -- that will allow it, put in place the conditions for it to stop.
But what we've also got to do is to make sure that we recognize that this action wasn't simply aimed against Israel and then Israel retaliated. It was also aimed against the proper government of Lebanon being able to control its own country.
And the very reason why two years ago the international community passed this resolution was because people could see that what was going to happen in southern Lebanon was that these Hezbollah militias, that are armed and financed by Iran and by Syria, were going to move into the south of the country in order to be a focus of terrorism and discontent.
Now, that is a fact. And of course all of us are appalled at the destruction and loss of life. Of course we are.
And that's why we've actually come together today with a viable plan, if people can agree it, as I believe they can, to get it stopped.
But once you've stopped this violence happening now, which of course we should do, once you do, it doesn't alter the underlying reality unless we've got a framework that allows us to put the government of Lebanon properly back in charge of its own country; unless we've got the commitment to take forward the Israel-Palestine two-state deal, which is there and which everyone wants to see; and then if we can -- unless we mobilize the international community to deal with the threat that Iran poses.
And there's no other way out of this. We're not -- you know, we can, all of us, you know, make whatever statements we want to do, use whatever words we want to do, but the brutal reality of the situation is that we're only going to get violence stopped and stability introduced on the basis of clear principles. Now, as I said, we've set out a way to do this. But it requires the long term as well as the short term.
QUESTION: On the issue of a multi-national force, what shape should it take? Who should lead it? Who should be part of it?
And, also, should Hezbollah agreeing to it be a precondition for setting up the force?
And, Mr. Prime Minister, you talked about a resolution leading to a cessation of hostilities. And I'm just wondering: Should it include a call for an immediate cease-fire?
BUSH: In terms of troops, that's what the meeting Monday is going to be about. And this is one of these issues that requires international consensus.
People will put forth ideas. And we'll participate in terms of trying to help develop a consensus about what the force ought to look like.
And in a general sense, though, the force needs to serve as a complement to a Lebanese force. But, see, that's the whole purpose of the force is to strengthen the Lebanese government by helping the Lebanese force move into the area.
The whole cornerstone of the policy for Lebanon is for Lebanon to be free and able to govern herself and defend herself with a viable force.
And so one of the things you'll see in discussions there is: How do we help the Lebanese army succeed; what's required; what's the manpower need to be in order to help this force move into the south so the government can take control of the country?
What it looks like? You know, if I hold a press conference on Tuesday, I'll be able to answer that better. But since I probably won't be, read your newspaper.
QUESTION: What about Hezbollah (INAUDIBLE)?
BUSH: Those are part of the conditions that they'll be discussing. That's what they'll be talking about.
The key is to have Lebanon agree with it. And the key is to have Israel agree within. Those are the two parties.
Hezbollah is not a state. They're a, you know, supposed political party that happens to be armed.
Now, what kind of state is it that has got a political party that has got a militia? It's a state that needs to be helped, is what that is.
And we need to help the Siniora government deal with a political party that is armed, that gets its arms and help from other parts of the world, in order for Lebanon's democracy to succeed.
A lot of changes in Lebanon. It wasn't all that long ago that Lebanon was occupied by Syria. And we came together and worked in the U.N. Security Council. And Syria is now out of Lebanon.
But part of the resolution that enabled Syria to get out was that Hezbollah would disarm. And if we truly want peace in the region, we've got to follow through on that 1559. And that's what the whole strategy is.
And part of the peacekeepers will be to -- or the multi-national force or whatever you call them -- will be in there trying to help the government.
BLAIR: Just on the international force, the thing that's very important to realize is that the purpose of it, obviously, is to help stabilize the situation. But it's also to allow the government of Lebanon's true armed forces to come down from the north and occupy the south themselves.
In other words, the purpose of the force is almost as a bridge between the north and the south, in order to allow the forces of the government of Lebanon to come down and do what Resolution 1559 always anticipated would happen.
And as for your second question, yes, of course, the U.N. resolution, the passing of it, the agreeing of it, can be the occasion for the end of hostilities, if it's acted upon and agreed upon.
And that requires not just the government of Israel and the government of Lebanon, obviously, to abide by it, but also for the whole of the international community to exert the necessary pressure so that there is the cessation of hostilities on both sides.
Now, that would be important also in making it very clear to Hezbollah and those that back Hezbollah that they have to allow the stabilization force to enter.
But yes, of course -- you know, look: Anybody with any human feeling for what is going on there wants this to stop as quickly as possible. And we have a process that allows us to do this, but it's got to be acted on. It's not just got to be agreed in theory; it's got to be acted on, too.
QUESTION: Mr. President and Prime Minister Blair, can I ask you both tonight what your messages are for the governments of Iran and Syria, given that you say that this is the crisis of the 21st century?
BUSH: Want me to start?
Our message is: Give up your nuclear weapon and your nuclear weapon ambitions. That's my message to Syria -- I mean, to Iran.
And my message to Syria is: You know, become an active participant in the neighborhood for peace. BLAIR: Yes, I mean, the message is very, very simple to them. It is that you have a choice. Iran and Syria have a choice. And they may think that they can avoid this choice; in fact, they can't.
And when things are set in train, like what has happened in Lebanon over the past few weeks, it only -- in my view -- underscores the fact that they have this choice.
They can either come in and participate as proper and responsible members of the international community, or they will face the risk of increasing confrontation.
And coming in and being proper members of the international community does not mean -- though I would love to see both Syria and Iran proper democracies -- does not mean to say that we insist that they change their government or even their system of government, although of course we want to see change in those countries.
But it does mean Iran abides by its obligations under the nuclear weapons treaty. It does mean that Iran and Syria stop supporting terrorism. It does mean that instead of trying to prevent the democratically elected government of Iraq fulfill its mandate, they allow it to fulfill its mandate.
Now, that's their choice, and it's a perfectly simple one. They can either decide they are going to abide by the rules of the international community or continue to transgress them.
And, look, in the end that's a choice that they will have to make. But where I think they make a strategic miscalculation is if they think that because of all the other issues that we have to resolve and so on, that we are indifferent to what they are doing.
There will be no sidetracking of our determination, for example, to make sure that Iran is fully compliant with the call that's been made on them from the whole of the international community in respect of nuclear weapons capability.
And I hope they realize there is a different relationship that is possible with the international community, but only on the basis that has been set out.
QUESTION: Mr. President, both of you, I'd like to ask you about the big picture that you're discussing.
Mr. President, three years ago, you argued that an invasion of Iraq would create a new stage of Arab-Israeli peace. And yet today there is an Iraqi prime minister who has been sharply critical of Israel.
Arab governments, despite your arguments, who first criticized Hezbollah, have now changed their tune. Now they're sharply critical of Israel.
And despite from both of you warnings to Syria and Iran to back off support from Hezbollah, effectively, Mr. President, your words are being ignored.
So what has happened to America's clout in this region that you've committed yourself to transform?
BUSH: It's an interesting period because, instead of having foreign policies based upon trying to create a sense of stability, we have a foreign policy that addresses the root causes of violence and instability.
For a while, American foreign policy was just, "Let's hope everything is calm" -- kind of, managed calm. But beneath the surface brewed a lot of resentment and anger that was manifested on September the 11th.
And so we've taken a foreign policy that says: On the one hand, we will protect ourselves from further attack in the short run by being aggressive in chasing down the killers and bringing them to justice.
And make no mistake: They're still out there, and they would like to harm our respective peoples because of what we stand for. In the long term, to defeat this ideology -- and they're bound by an ideology -- you defeat it with a more hopeful ideology called freedom.
And, look, I fully understand some people don't believe it's possible for freedom and democracy to overcome this ideology of hatred. I understand that. I just happen to believe it is possible. And I believe it will happen.
And so what you're seeing is, you know, a clash of governing styles. For example, you know, the notion of democracy beginning to emerge scares the ideologues, the totalitarians, those who want to impose their vision. It just frightens them.
And so they respond. They've always been violent.
You know, I hear this amazing kind of editorial thought that says, all of a sudden, Hezbollah's become violent because we're promoting democracy. They have been violent for a long period of time. Or Hamas?
One reason why the Palestinians still suffer is because there are militants who refuse to accept a Palestinian state based upon democratic principles.
And so what the world is seeing is a desire by this country and our allies to defeat the ideology of hate with an ideology that has worked and that brings hope.
And one of the challenges, of course, is to convince people that Muslims would like to be free, that there's other people other than people in Britain and America that would like to be free in the world.
There's this kind of almost -- kind of a weird kind of elitism that says well maybe -- maybe certain people in certain parts of the world shouldn't be free; maybe it's best just to let them sit in these tyrannical societies.
And our foreign policy rejects that concept. And we don't accept it. And so we're working. And this is -- I said the other day, when these attacks took place, I said it should be a moment of clarity for people to see the stakes in the 21st century.
I mean, now there's an unprovoked attack on a democracy. Why? I happen to believe because progress is being made toward democracies.
And I believe that -- I also believe that Iran would like to exert additional influence in the region; a theocracy would like to spread its influence using surrogates.
And so I'm as determined as ever to continue fostering a foreign policy based upon liberty. And I think it's going to work unless we lose our nerve and quit. And this government isn't going to quit.
QUESTION: But I asked about the loss of American influence, and are you worried about that?
BUSH: Well, we went to the G-8 and worked with our allies and got a remarkable statement on what took place. We're working to get a United Nations resolution on Iran. We're working to have a Palestinian state.
But the reason why you asked the question is because terrorists are trying to stop that progress. And we'll ultimately prevail, because their -- they have -- their ideology is so dark and so dismal that when people really think about it, it'll be rejected.
They just got a different tool to use than we do: They kill innocent lives to achieve objectives. That's what they do. And they're good. They get on the TV screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, you know, this, that or the other. I mean, they're able to kind of say to people: Don't come and bother us, because we will kill you.
And my attitude is that now's the time to be firm. And we've got a great weapon on our side, and that is freedom and liberty. And it's got -- those two concepts have got the capacity to defeat ideologies of hate.
BLAIR: I don't think it actually has anything to do with a loss of American influence at all. I think we've got to go back and ask what changed policy, because policy has changed in the past few years.
And what changed policy was September the 11th. That changed policy. But actually, before September the 11th, this global movement with a global ideology was already in being. September the 11th was the culmination of what they wanted to do.
But actually, you know -- and this is probably where the policymakers such as myself were truly in error -- is that even before September the 11th this was happening in all sorts of different ways in different countries. I mean, in Algeria for example, tens and tens of thousands of people lost their lives. This movement has grown. It is there. It will latch onto any cause that it possibly can and give it a dimension of terrorism and hatred.You can see this. You can see it in Kashmir, for example. You can see it in Chechnya, you know? You can see it in Palestine.
Now, what is its purpose? Its purpose is to promote its ideology based on a perversion of Islam and to use any methods at all, but particularly terrorism, to do that. Because they know that the value of terrorism to them is -- as I was saying a moment or two ago -- it's not simply the act of terror, it's the chain reaction that terror brings with it.
Terrorism brings the reprisal; the reprisal brings the additional hatred; the additional hatred breeds the additional terrorism, and so on. In a small way, we lived through that in Northern Ireland over many, many decades.
Now, what happened after September the 11th -- and this explains, I think, the president's policy but also the reason why I have taken the view and still take the view that Britain and America should remain strong allies, shoulder to shoulder, in fighting this battle, is that we are never going to succeed unless we understand they are going to fight hard.
The reason why they are doing what they are doing in Iraq at the moment -- and, yes, it's really tough as a result of it -- is because they know that if right in the center of the Middle East, in an Arab Muslim country, you've got a nonsectarian democracy -- in other words people weren't governed either by religious fanatics or secular dictators -- you've got a genuine democracy of the people: How does their ideology flourish in such circumstances?
So they have imported the terrorism into that country, preyed on whatever reactionary elements there are to boost it. And that's why we have the issue there.
That's why the Taliban are trying to come back in Afghanistan. That is why the moment it looked as if you could get progress in Israel and Palestine, it had to be stopped. That's the moment when, as they say there was a problem in Gaza, so they realized: Well, there's a possibility now we can set Lebanon against Israel.
Now, it's a global movement. It's a global ideology. And if there's any mistake that's ever made in these circumstances, it's if people are surprised that it's tough to fight, because you're up against an ideology that's prepared to us any means at all, including killing any number of wholly innocent people.
And I don't dispute part of the implication of your question at all in the sense that you look at what is happening in the Middle East, and what is happening in Iraq and Lebanon and Palestine, and of course there's a sense of shock and frustration and anger at what is happening, and grief at the loss of innocent lives. But it is not a reason for walking away. It's a reason for staying the course and staying it no matter how tough it is: because the alternative is actually letting this ideology grip larger and larger numbers of people.
And it is going to be difficult. Look, we've got a problem even in our own Muslim communities in Europe who will half buy into some of the propaganda that's pushed at it -- the purpose of America is to suppress Islam; you know, Britain's joined with America in the suppression of Islam.
And one of the things we've got to stop doing is stop apologizing for our own positions. Muslims in America, as far as I'm aware of, are free to worship. Muslims in Britain are free to worship. We have plural societies.
You know, it's nonsense. The propaganda is nonsense. And we're not going to defeat this ideology until we in the West go out with sufficient confidence in our position and say, "This is wrong. It's not just wrong in its methods; it's wrong in its ideas, it's wrong in its ideology, it's wrong in every single wretched reactionary thing about it."
And it will be a long struggle, I'm afraid. But there's no alternative but to stay the course with it. And we will.
QUESTION: Could I ask you both how soon realistically you think there could be an end to the violence, given there's no signs at the moment of 1559 being met? I mean, do you think we're looking at more weeks, months, or (inaudible) sooner than that?
And also, will the multi-national force potentially be used to effect a cease-fire, or simply to police an agreement once we eventually get to that?
BLAIR: Well, I think that the answer to the first point is: as soon as possible. And if we can get the U.N. resolution agreed next week and acted upon, then it can happen. And it can happen then.
I mean, you know, we want to see it happen as quickly as possible, but the conditions have got to be in place to allow it to happen.
And in relation to the multi-national force, now what will be -- it's not going to be the opportunity to fight, you know, to fight their way in, but the very way that you pose that question underlines this basic point, which is: This can only work if Hezbollah are prepared to allow it to work.
And we've got to make sure, therefore, that we have the force go in as part of an agreement that the government of Lebanon have bound itself to, the government of Israel have bound itself to, the international community has bound itself to.
And Hezbollah have got to appreciate that if they stand out against that, then it's not merely that they will be doing a huge disservice to the people of Lebanon, but they will also, again, face the fact that action will have to be taken against them.
BUSH: We share the same urgency of trying to stop the violence. That's why Condi Rice went out there very quickly.
Her job is to -- first and foremost, was to make it clear to the Lebanese people that we wanted to send aid and help, and help work on the corridors necessary to get the aid to the Lebanese people.
And she's coming back to the region tonight; will be there tomorrow. I mean, I could've called her back here and could've sat around, visited and talked. But I thought it was important for her to go back to the region to work on a United Nations Security Council resolution.
So, like the prime minister, I would like to end this as quickly as possible, as well.
Having said that, I want to make sure that we address the root cause of the problem. And I believe the plan that Tony and I discussed will yield exactly what we want, and that is addressing the root cause of the problem.
Thank you all for coming.
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