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U.S. Presses Forward with Draft U.N. Resolution

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

With Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice at his side, President Bush today met with reporters at his ranch near Crawford, Texas. The president said the U.S. would continue to press for a resolution in the United Nations that would halt fighting in Lebanon and create conditions for an international peacekeeping force on Lebanon's southern border with Israel.

Over the weekend the government of Lebanon rejected the resolution the U.S. had proposed in tandem with France because the resolution did not require Israel to withdraw from south Lebanon. With the president this morning in Texas was NPR's David Greene, who joins us now.

And David, the president says he'll continue pressing for a cessation of the fighting this week, still working with the French at the U.N. What did he say today about the weekend rejection of his proposal by Lebanon?

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Hi, Renee. Well, the president's basic message was that there are going to be disagreements over this resolution, and not all of the parties are going to agree on all parts of it. So it was really a message that the international community is expressing its opinion in this resolution. It's going to try and enforce it, but that both sides may not necessarily agree, which certainly leaves open the question how much it's going to accomplish. Of course what the Lebanese government is upset about is that the U.S. and France did not write in a demand that Israel withdrawal from southern Lebanon now, and in fact the president specifically said when he thinks that will happen. I think we have some tape here of him.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: As these Lebanese and international forces deploy, the Israeli defense forces will withdraw, and both Israel and Lebanon will respect the blue line that divides them.

GREENE: Now, Renee, we have no idea when there will be a second resolution, when an international force would go in, so it's a pretty green light from the president saying that Israel can stay there until that happens.

MONTAGNE: And President Bush continues to say he opposes a cease-fire in south Lebanon. Explain what the proposal - and how it differs from a cease-fire.

GREENE: It's a difference in language. After getting a lot of headlines saying that the White House was opposed to an immediate cease-fire, now the White House is saying we support a resolution that will bring a cessation of violence. But substantively it doesn't differ all that much, because as we said, Israel can stay in south Lebanon. They're saying that the two sides might not necessarily agree on this resolution. So substantively not a big difference that we see yet.

MONTAGNE: And did the president speak specifically about the violence in the last 24 hours?

GREENE: He kept his language about that very broad, did not speak specifically to any incidents. He said the loss of life on both sides is very tragic. But his message was that this is worth the cost, and that a quick end would be taking the easy road. Better to make sure that whatever resolution is in place is a lasting one.

MONTAGNE: And did the president say anything about opening new fronts on the diplomatic side? I'm thinking here of, say, speaking directly with Syria.

GREENE: You know, Renee, we asked him that exact question, and he didn't - he didn't really say. He basically said that, well, we have a consulate in Syria, we've been in touch with Syrian officials. Of course that's been at a very low level. And he essentially said Syria knows how we feel. But no hints that he's going to engage Syria or Iran. No hint also that he's going to actually speak to Prime Minister Olmert or Prime Minister Siniora personally. He said that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has been doing a fine job, and he has no plans to speak with them yet at this point.

MONTAGNE: You know, just turning to another subject, he was asked about Iraq, I gather, and its fledging democracy.

GREENE: Indeed. I actually asked him the question about Iraq, and I was wondering if he agreed with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who was at the White House some weeks back, and said that one of the biggest missteps in Iraq was wrong expectations, believing that democracy in Iraq would be born much faster. And I asked the president if he agrees and also had expectations that were wrong. He wouldn't go there. He basically said that democracy has come pretty quickly in Iraq and that he doesn't think there's a civil war there right now.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.

GREENE: My pleasure, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's David Greene with the president in Crawford, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
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