WASHINGTON – President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced support Friday for a United Nations resolution calling a cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon,as well as the creation of a multinational force to stabilize southern Lebanon.
The president and prime minister agreed at a White House news conference that the U.N. needed this framework to settle the conflict between the neighboring states.
The two leaders are hoping to turn their plan into a U.N. resolution that can be settled as early as Monday. Bush said the goal is a resolution “setting out a clear framework for cessation of hostilities on an urgent basis,and mandating the multinational force.”
“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,” Bush said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will return to the Middle East Saturday to resume talks with Israel and Lebanon for an agreement to end fighting between the two countries.
Bush and Blair's meeting follows last week's G-8 summit in Russia,where the situation in Lebanon unexpectedly became a chief focus of discussions. Talks in Rome this week failed to produce an agreement for a cease-fire.
Since the capture of two Israeli soldiers during a July 12 raid by Hezbollah troops,51 Israelis and 398 Lebanese have been killed. More than 1,377 Israelis and 1,661 Lebanese have been wounded. The number of Hezbollah casualties and injuries has not been reported.
Both leaders recognized Iran and Syria's influence over the militant group and asked them to take part in the peace process.
“Iran and Syria have a choice,” Blair said. “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.”
Details of the proposed multinational force remain unknown until next week's Security Council meeting. However,Bush has an idea of what the troops should accomplish.
“The force needs to serve as a complement to a Lebanese force,” Bush said. “That’s the whole purpose … to strengthen the Lebanese government by helping the Lebanese force move into the area.”
Both leaders expressed concern over the urgency of the situation.
“We feel deeply for people in Lebanon and people in Israel who are the innocent casualties of this conflict,” Blair said. “And we want it to stop and we want it to stop now.”
“I want to make sure that we address the root cause of the problem,” Bush said.
“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,” Bush said.
Blair headed to California after his meeting with Bush to promote British business interests.