WASHINGTON – The White House on Thursday defended its stance in the Mideast crisis, brushing off allegations that the United States is not pressuring Israel to stop its attacks on Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon that have claimed civilian lives.
"We think that Hezbollah has gone too far in holding captive the southern part of Lebanon," White House press secretary Tony Snow said.
He said U.S. officials are actively involved in negotiations to put pressure on Hezbollah and its backers, Syria and Iran. Two U.S. envoys have traveled to the region and the president has had conversations with leaders in the region, including a 12-minute call Thursday morning with Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Snow said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned to discuss diplomatic efforts to end the violence, and the possibility of sending international troops to police a peace, over dinner Thursday in New York with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Annan has called for an immediate halt to the escalating conflict between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah militia but said there were "serious obstacles to reaching a cease-fire."
Snow declined to disclose details of Bush's conversations with leaders in the region, but said the U.S. wants a cease-fire, but one that would ensure the integrity of the Lebanese government and that Hezbollah would stop firing rockets into Israel and using people in southern Lebanon as human shields.
"The question is 'How would the United States stop the fighting?"' Snow asked. "I'm not sure at this juncture — you don't just step in and put up a stop sign."
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Rice would travel to the Middle East as early as next week to seek ways to end the violence.
He said she would "address the tactical situation but also try to address the root causes and bring a strategic change."