WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is working hard to end violence in the Mideast and criticism of its measured response is coming from people who want "egg-timer diplomacy," the chief White House spokesman said Friday.
"Nobody has been more active than we have," said Tony Snow, defending administration policy amid continuing U.S. opposition to a quick cease-fire without built-in steps for longer-term stability in both Israel and Lebanon.
Making the rounds of the morning network news shows a day after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went to the United Nations to confer with counterparts, Snow said most of the peacemaking efforts have been behind the scenes.
Meanwhile, Israel resumed airstrikes Friday and prepared for a possible ground invasion, warning people in the south to flee.
The Israeli army said Hezbollah rockets hit a U.N. post near Zarit, just inside Israel, but a U.N. officer said it was an artillery shell fired by the Israeli Defense Force. The facility was severely damaged, but nobody was injured as the Ghanian troops manning the post were inside bomb shelters at the time of the strike, the U.N. official said.
Asked on NBC's "Today" show whether Washington was trying to discourage Israel from any notion of a ground invasion, he replied: "We have not been doing military collaboration or planning with the Israelis. But what we have been doing instead is urging the Israelis to use restraint."
Snow reiterated that the United States is concerned about the survival of the government in Lebanon. At the same time, the administration has been trying to limit expectations for a trip Rice plans to the Mideast, saying she will not shuttle among capitals to broker a deal.
"You're not going to see a return to the kind of diplomacy, I think, that we've seen before where you try to negotiate an end to the violence that leaves the parties in place and where you have status quo ante," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday.
Meanwhile, the White House announced on Friday that British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a leading U.S. foreign policy ally, will meet with Bush next Friday at the White House. The Middle East crisis will be high on the agenda, including consolidating democracy in Iraq, Iran's nuclear ambitions, and genocide in Darfur, Snow said.
The administration also made plans to press for another Senate vote on U.N. ambassador John Bolton, whose temporary appointment expires at the end of the year.
A key Republican who had opposed Bolton 's confirmation before, Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said he would now support Bolton for the post, citing the tense Middle East situation and what he said was Bolton's good performance.
Bolton's nomination remains before the Senate. Snow said White House officials are discussing with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., how to proceed — whether to begin committee hearings again or to try to bring Bolton's nomination up directly for a Senate vote without new hearings.
Bush appointed Bolton during a congressional recess in 2005 after Senate Democrats and Voinovich blocked a vote.
On the Israeli-Lebanese situation, the administration also questioned whether a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah is even feasible.
"We'd love to have a cease-fire," Snow had said Thursday. "But Hezbollah has to be part of it. And at this point, there's no indication that Hezbollah intends to lay down arms."
On Friday, he urged patience with the administration's methodical approach.
"The people who are talking about too little, too late, they may not be keeping the diplomatic scorecard," Snow told NBC.
"Everybody who wants this kind of egg-timer diplomacy, who thinks, OK these things ought to happen quickly, you don't understand human nature," he added. "Terrorists are not going to say, 'You know, that's right, I'm going to pick another career.' "
"Many times, they're going to fight to their death, and we hope that doesn't happen in Lebanon."
"Hezbollah started this. Hezbollah acted as an occupying force in southern Lebanon," Snow said on ABC's "Good Morning America.
"The finger has to be pointed at Hezbollah. The fact is that Hezbollah is the aggressor in this case."
"We'd like to have cessation of violence immediately," he said," but there is a need "to address the root cause of the problem. If you just try to paper it over, the situation is going to flare up again and it's likely to get worse."