ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – World leaders sought to halt escalating violence in the Middle East, giving consideration to the possibility of sending international peacekeepers to stop Hezbollah from bombing Israel, an idea that Israel quickly rejected.
The escalating violence overshadowed the summit of world leaders where President Bush, not realizing his remarks were being picked up by a microphone, bluntly expressed his frustration with Hezbollah, a militant Islamic group believed backed by Iran and Syria.
"See the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s—- and it's over," Bush told British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a discussion before the Group of Eight leaders began their final lunch.
Bush also suggested that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan call Syrian President Bashar Assad to "make something happen."
In Damacus, Iran's foreign minister said a cease-fire and an exchange of hostages would be an acceptable and fair deal in resolving the conflict. "In fact, there can be a cease-fire followed by a prisoner swap," said Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who spoke after talks with the vice president of Syria.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is opposed to sending international forces to Lebanon to help end bloodshed in the region, Israeli senior officials said. Olmert instead wants Lebanese forces to take control of the border area with Israel and wants the Hezbollah militia disarmed.
The warfare between Hezbollah and Israel generated reaction from around the globe, and several nations made plans to evacuate their citizens.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, closing out the first G-8 summit on Russian soil, said his nation would contribute troops to a U.N. peacekeeping force. The European Union said it also was considering deploying peacekeepers in Lebanon.
France said it is sending Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to Beirut to express support for Lebanon's government. And French President Jacques Chirac, who attended the summit, said he believed "some means of coercion" may be needed to enforce a U.N. resolution that calls for the disarmament of Hezbollah and other militias in Lebanon.
After his talks with Annan on the sidelines of the G-8 summit, Blair said, "The blunt reality is that this violence is not going to stop unless we create the conditions for the cessation of violence. ... The only way we're going to get a cessation of hostilities is if we have the deployment of an international force into that area that can stop the bombardment over into Israel and therefore gives Israel a reason to stop its attacks on Hezbollah."
Asked about the comments on an international force, White House national security spokesman Frederick Jones said, "We're open to the possibility of that force being necessary."
The White House said it had nothing to announce about a trip to the Middle East by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, even though Bush was overheard telling Blair, "She's going. I think Condi's going to go pretty soon."
Annan, in a joint press appearance with Blair, appealed to Israel to abide by international law, spare civilian lives and infrastructure. "We should not inflict any more suffering on them," Annan said. "Both parties should bear that in mind and respect international humanitarian law."
At his closing G8 news conference, Blair said that assembling an international peacekeeping force could take time. He said Britain would work with other countries although he called British forces, which are part of the U.S.-led effort in Iraq, as "somewhat stretched."
The comments by Blair and Annan came a day after world leaders forged a unified response at their G8 summit to the crisis in the Middle East, blaming Hezbollah and Hamas for the escalating violence and recognizing Israel's right to defend itself — although they called on the Jewish state to show restraint.
"I am most pleased that the leaders came together to say, look, we condemn violence. We honor innocent life," Bush said before heading into a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. "For the first time, we've really begun to address with clarity the root causes of the conflict ... and that is terrorist activity — namely Hezbollah, that's housed and encouraged by Syria."
Bush also asserted that the militant Islamic group is financed by Iran. However, the G8 statement makes no mention of Syria or Iran. Putin told reporters that Russia blocked the effort to name Syria.
"If we don't have enough grounds to blame somebody, we cannot ... put them in documents on such a serious state level just based on assertions," Putin said.
Bush's remarks overheard at lunch were picked up by the summit's closed-circuit television, which was filming the leaders as they dined. Normally, the images are transmitted with sound that does not allow reporters to pick out individual comments. But in this case, a microphone picked up Bush's comments to Blair.
On their final day of meetings, the leaders — the United States, Russia, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada — focused on more traditional summit fare, such as restarting stalled global trade talks and implementing a major debt relief program for the world's poorest nations that was announced at last year's summit.
But the Mideast, North Korea and Iran claimed more of the spotlight.
The leaders called on North Korea to put a stop to its missile tests and to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
On Iran's nuclear ambitions, the leaders sought to keep up pressure for a U.N. resolution seeking sanctions. "Iran has a serious choice to make and we invited it to make the right decision — to react positively to the concrete proposals presented to it," the leaders said.
The G8 leaders also met on Monday with seven leaders of the developing world, including a trio of emerging economic powerhouses — China, India and Brazil. The expanded group issued a statement expressing their outrage at the Bombay commuter train bombings that killed at least 200 people.
"We are determined to continue the fight against terrorism by all legitimate means," their statement said, pledging help to bring justice to those responsible.