Rice Plans Talks on Crisis With Mideast Leaders

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 22, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday announced plans for talks with Israeli, Palestinian and Lebanese leaders as part of a new U.S. diplomatic effort in the Middle East conflict, but warned that the United States would not support a cease-fire that fell short of disarming Hezbollah and restoring Lebanese government control throughout the besieged country.

On the eve of her foray into the crisis, Rice warned against the "false promise" of an immediate end to hostilities that would only trigger more violence "five or nine months" down the road.

"There are no answers that are easy, nor are there any quick fixes," Rice said at a news conference outlining talks scheduled in Israel on Monday and a meeting Wednesday in Rome with U.N., European and Arab officials on Lebanon.

"What I won't do is go to some place and try to get a cease-fire that I know isn't going to last," she said.

Rice announced the U.S. initiative as convoys of thousands of Israeli troops were poised for a ground offensive on the nation's 50-mile border with Lebanon. Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon called the expected ground incursion a "limited" mission designed to "mop up" Hezbollah strongholds and weapons sites.

He said that Israel would not replicate its 1982 invasion, which involved a blitzkrieg offensive through the southern third of Lebanon to Beirut, but that he expected repeated Israeli strikes with ground troops and special forces in what he called "in-and-out operations."

With the conflict escalating, France, which once ruled Lebanon as a mandate power, yesterday demanded that the European Union act more strenuously to promote a cease-fire. President Jacques Chirac issued an open letter in Paris urging the EU to dispatch its foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, for urgent talks with Israeli and other Middle East leaders.

Terje Roed-Larsen, a U.N. envoy for Lebanon, expressed concern yesterday that the Israeli military campaign could doom Lebanon's fledgling democracy.

"Lebanese Prime Minister [Fuad] Siniora is under colossal pressure," he said. "If the situation continues and indeed escalates, of course that pressure will mount. We cannot rule out a collapse of the government. This would be a tragedy for Lebanon."

For now, Washington is rebuffing pressure from allies to do more diplomatically, and Rice turned back questions about whether the U.S. mission was coming too late. "I could have gotten on a plane and rushed over and started shuttling, and it wouldn't have been clear what I was shuttling to do," she said.

The Bush administration is instead trying to develop a three-pronged plan that will address the political, economic and security aspects of an eventual resolution, Rice said. But she tried to lower expectations of what would be achieved during her trip.

"A cease-fire would be a false promise if it simply returns us to the status quo, allowing terrorists to launch attacks at the time and terms of their choosing, and to threaten innocent people, Arab and Israeli, throughout the region," she told reporters at the State Department. "That would be a guarantee of future violence."

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