Bush Refuses to Press Israel for Truce

The Associated Press
Friday, July 14, 2006; 9:10 PM

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- President Bush refused to press Israel for a cease-fire in Mideast violence Friday, risking a wider breach with world leaders at a weekend summit already confronting crises with Iran and North Korea.

Flying here from Germany, Bush called the leaders of Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan to explore ways to end three days of furious fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. Turning aside complaints that Israel is using excessive force, Bush rejected a cease-fire plea from Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora.

"The president is not going to make military decisions for Israel," White House press secretary Tony Snow said. He said it was unlikely that either side would agree to a cease-fire now.

The eruption of Mideast violence moved prominently onto the agenda of the summit beginning Saturday.

In contrast with Bush's stand, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, "No hostage-takings are acceptable ... but neither is the use of full-scale force in response to these, even if unlawful, actions. We will demand that all sides involved in the conflict immediately stop the bloodshed."

The summit is expected to issue a Mideast declaration, and the United States tried to shape it to be critical of Hezbollah and supportive of Lebanon's fragile government.

French President Jacques Chirac accused Israel of going too far. "One could ask if today there is not a sort of will to destroy Lebanon, its equipment, its roads, its communications," said Chirac, who has tried to patch relations with the U.S. after disagreements over the Iraq war.

Before traveling here from Rome, Italian Premier Romano Prodi said the spiral of violence was making a return to dialogue difficult. "We have regressed 20 years. If we go on like this, all efforts made in the past years will have been in vain," he said.

Bush met with Putin ahead of Saturday's opening of the annual summit of eight leading industrial powers. Despite political strains, the two leaders shook hands and hugged. "Solid friendship," Bush said of Putin as they and their wives went to dinner in a villa on the grounds of the opulent 18th century Konstantin Palace. The two leaders also will hold a news conference on Saturday.

Bush's firm support of Israel caused friction with allies as he seeks consensus against Iran and North Korea for their suspected nuclear weapons programs. The European Union has criticized Israel for using "disproportionate" force. From Russia to Spain, leaders voiced concern at the escalation of the conflict.

In Washington, Sen. John Warner, the Armed Services Committee chairman, urged the administration to be mindful of how Israel's response will affect the broader Mideast region.

While Israel was "the victim of provocative attacks," Warner urged the administration to "think through very carefully how Israel's extraordinary reaction could affect our operations in Iraq and our joint diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue."

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