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Transcript: Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns on 'FNS'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published July 31, 2006 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a partial transcript from the July 30, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":
"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" GUEST HOST BRIT HUME: When the United Nations meets tomorrow or perhaps Tuesday to discuss a multinational force for Lebanon, the U.S. will be represented by our first guest today, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns.
Mr. Ambassador, welcome.
UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS NICHOLAS BURNS: Thank you, Brit.
HUME: Mr. Secretary, I guess, at the moment, right?
BURNS: Thank you.
HUME: Where do we go from here?
BURNS: Well, Secretary Rice obviously has a lot of work to do, we do, to try to bring this conflict to an end. She'll be meeting with Prime Minister Olmert in a few hours to discuss the need for a political framework agreement between Israel and Lebanon. We think we've made progress there.
The next step is to try to convince the United Nations to bless a force that would go into southern Lebanon to try to separate these forces and provide for a more permanent peace.
HUME: Well, you say you made progress with dealing with Lebanon, but Lebanon now says that it will not even meet with Secretary Rice until there is an unconditional cease-fire, something the U.S. has resisted and, of course, the Israelis have as well. So where does that leave you?
BURNS: I don't think that story is accurate. I talked with Secretary Rice. It was her decision and she communicated to Prime Minister Siniora not to visit Beirut today under these very tragic circumstances where so many people were killed, and she felt that her work today should be in Israel.
And we didn't have any indication from the Lebanese side that they wouldn't talk to us. of course they're going to talk to us. In fact, I expect a conversation later today.
HUME: Well, perhaps, but Siniora, the Lebanese leader, said, quote, "There's no place on this sad morning for any discussion other than an immediate and unconditional cease-fire," as well as he spoke of an international investigation of what he called massacres.
Lebanon wanting an unconditional cease-fire and saying they won't discuss anything else, seems to me, puts you in a somewhat difficult situation to have an agreement between Israel and Lebanon.
BURNS: We've made progress in a political framework agreement. That's the first thing that has to be decided, and there will be further discussions between the government of Lebanon and the government of the United States.
In fact, our ambassador is seeing Prime Minister Siniora today. So the problem is not going to be communications. The problem is can we get these two — the parties to agree to an arrangement where the fighting can stop.
HUME: The parties being...
BURNS: The parties being the government of Israel and the government of Lebanon.
HUME: Well, but Hezbollah is embedded in the government of Lebanon to some extent — obviously, from all that we're finding, deeply embedded in the population of Lebanon.
How do you have a cease-fire without talking to the people who are doing the shooting on the Lebanese side of the border?
BURNS: Well, you can't expect Israel to speak directly to Hezbollah. We don't speak directly to Hezbollah. But the Lebanese government obviously has influence. As you said, there are two members of the Lebanese cabinet who are from Hezbollah. So they'll have to work out those arrangements.
But the agreement here has to be between two states, Israel and Lebanon. One of the things that we want to do here, all of us, is to build up the sovereignty of the government of Lebanon. It's been the lack of sovereignty of that government, the lack of strength and the fact that Hezbollah has created a state within a state in southern Lebanon, that is one of the pernicious factors that has led to the present conflict.
HUME: All right. Well, let's assume that all goes well. They have the agreement you're discussing, the political framework agreement you're discussing between Lebanon and Israel. The United States is there as a party or a shepherd to the whole thing. Who gets Hezbollah to stop shooting?
BURNS: Well, Hezbollah has to understand that this conflict isn't going to come to an end until it puts down its arms. What Hezbollah has done over the last 2.5 weeks is violate international law by crossing the blue line.
It has held a million Israeli citizens, civilians, hostage to the 4,000 rocket attacks that it's rained down on the northern third of the country. And so Hezbollah is going to have to make a decision it will be part of this cease-fire. That's a fundamental element in this process.
HUME: Well, Hezbollah has — as the party that started all this and seems to be surviving all this with its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, sort of standing astride the Mideast as a leading figure in the Islamist movement as never before — you see him on your screen.
What imaginable incentive would Hezbollah have unless pressed by Syria and Iran, who seem not to be playing here, at least not in any constructive way, to stop shooting?
BURNS: I think there's going to be enormous pressure on Hezbollah by all the other elements of the Lebanese government to agree to stop this fighting, because there has been a toll among civilians, of course, and it's very tragic to see what happened today in Qana.
But also there's been a degrading of Hezbollah military capabilities in the south, of their civilian headquarters in Beirut. So I know it's fashionable to say that somehow Hezbollah is doing well. This has not been a good 2.5 weeks for Hezbollah from a military point of view, and they've got to be worried about continued Israeli offensive operations against them.
So our interest in the United States is to try to use our influence to complete this political framework agreement, to try to get humanitarian aid into southern Lebanon to help the people there, but also to go to the United Nations this week and to argue that there should be an international force that enters southern Lebanon below the Litani River and north of the Israeli border so that...
HUME: Would that be ahead of a cease-fire? Would that be to bring about a cease-fire? Would this be a force that could fight its way in if it had to, or would this be a post-cease-fire?
BURNS: It's a force that would go in as a result of a political agreement in a permissive environment, but it would give us what an immediate cease-fire today could not give us.
HUME: Would this be a force...
BURNS: It would give us some reasonable probability that there'd be able to be a permanent peace and stability on that border. An immediate cease-fire would leave Hezbollah in place threatening northern Israel. It would leave the Israeli army, the IDF, in southern Lebanon itself.
So the answer has to be a permanent and durable cease-fire. And that's what we're trying to achieve.
HUME: How likely is it — do you think you can get the U.N. to come together on that?
BURNS: I think the United Nations is going to come together on the idea of an international force. It will have to be a multinational force. Lots of countries will have to contribute to it...
BURNS: ... and it will have to be a force that is strong enough to be able to hit back if it's attacked by militia like Hezbollah, but a force that can cement in place some type of durable cease-fire that the people of Israel and the people of Lebanon both deserve.
HUME: Who will participate? The United States will not, correct?
BURNS: The United States is not going to put ground troops into southern Lebanon. We're certainly going to give strong political support. And there are a number of countries, and I can't speak for them publicly, obviously — they'll make their own decisions as to when they speak publicly — a number of countries that have already indicated they wish to be part of such a force.
BURNS: A number of countries, yes.
HUME: How many?
BURNS: How many countries?
HUME: A handful? A dozen? How many?
BURNS: You know, all you need for a force like this, based on our experience in Afghanistan, in Bosnia, Kosovo, is a core group of countries with strong militaries to form the basis of a force.
I think you'll see this week at the United Nations a number of countries come forward and say they're interested in participating.
HUME: Let me explore the proposition that you mentioned earlier that Hezbollah — this has been a bad couple weeks for Hezbollah militarily. Obviously, a lot of them have been killed. We don't know how many because it's hard to distinguish them from the civilian population.
You don't know whether you've killed an innocent farmer or a doctor or whether you've killed somebody who would launch rockets.
But the question is it appears that Israel will not mount a major ground offensive, that it is going to try to finish this job from the air. What has happened in recent days shows that with the Katyusha rockets and others still being fired at Israel that it's not easy to do that simply from the air.
So Hezbollah will live to fight another day. It will not be wiped out as had originally been talked about. Nasrallah emerges as a big hero to the Islamists. Israel gets a terrible black eye in the world. You've now got the denunciations that are coming down on Israel from all around, Mideast in particular.
King Abdullah of Jordan called this a gross aggression, an ugly crime committed by the Israeli forces, and so on. Margaret Beckett, the British foreign secretary, called it absolutely dreadful, quite appalling, and so on.
Only the United States is not attacking Israel for this, what is considered to be this horrible incident today, which obviously it was. You put that together. How is it that Hezbollah has been weakened here?
BURNS: Well, Hezbollah is a large organization. It's a political organization. It's a social and labor organization. It's also a terrorist organization.
And obviously, what Israel is trying to do is to degrade the terrorist capabilities of that state, because it was Hezbollah that started this, that crossed the blue line, that fired the rockets into Israel and took the Israeli soldiers hostage.
And so Hezbollah cannot profit from a continuation of this war. It may think it can politically, but it cannot militarily. And there should be — we think there is a coincidence...
HUME: You say in any outcome it can't.
BURNS: Right. We think there's a coincidence of views here, that we're making progress on this political framework, as Secretary Rice said this morning, because both sides understand the need to bring this conflict to an end, but it has to be done on a sustainable basis.
We have to be responsible in the way we put this cease-fire together so that fighting doesn't resume days or weeks hence.
HUME: Let me turn to Iran, which is so far seemingly undeterred by the pressure that's been mounted against it to date, the diplomatic pressure on its nuclear program. Where does that matter now stand and where are you going on that?
BURNS: I think the Iranians are cornered. The Iranians thought they were going to be able to continue their nuclear activities at their plant at Natanz unfettered by the international community.
What they specifically thought was that they could divide China and Russia, on the one hand, from the United States and Europe on the other, and that's not happened.
We'll be voting this week a U.N. Security Council resolution that will mandate the suspension of Iran's nuclear programs, and it will say that if Iran doesn't do that by August 31st that the Security Council, including China and Russia, will agree on a sanctions regime against Iran.
I don't think Iran counted on this. I think they've been surprised by it. And it's good that we're mounting pressure.
HUME: What about the sanctions? What sort of sanctions are you contemplating here?
BURNS: Well, we'll see. I mean, obviously, we're going to have to focus on the nuclear industry and try to cut off dual-use exports, exports of technologies that can help them further their enrichment and reprocessing activities.
We certainly would like to inhibit the ability of Iranians to travel, Iranian government officials, or for people to profit from our scientific and technological expertise.
So the Iranians, as recently as a couple of months ago, I think, felt they were going to just head down the nuclear road, increase their enrichment activities and, we think, create a nuclear weapons system.
This is going to be a significant blow to them, and as President Bush and Prime Minister Blair said the other day, Iran is a country flexing its muscles. This war between Israel and Hezbollah is also about Iran. Hezbollah is a proxy for Iran. Hezbollah is financed by Iran. And those long-range rockets that have hit Israeli cities — they are made in Iran.
HUME: I'm just hearing two things. One is that Secretary Rice will now be coming back to Washington and, secondly, that the U.N. Security Council is going to meet on Lebanon today, I understand?
BURNS: Well, Secretary Rice is going to be meeting with Prime Minister Olmert today, and then she's going to decide on her travel plans.
The Security Council is going to be meeting in the next few days. I don't know if they've agreed in the last couple of minutes since I entered your studio for a meeting today. But certainly the Security Council has a number of jobs that it has to do.
It has to help to create this international force which is a key factor in bringing the fighting to the end, the force that will go into southern Lebanon. And it also has to help us to bring these parties to a cease-fire agreement, so I think you will see a lot of action in New York at the Security Council this week.
HUME: Mr. Ambassador, it's good to have you. Thank you for coming in.
BURNS: Thank you.
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