CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush said Monday any Mideast cease-fire must prevent Hezbollah from strengthening its grip in southern Lebanon, asserting "it's time to address root causes of problems."
Bush urged the United Nations to work quickly to approve a resolution to stop hostilities that have been raging between Israel and Hezbollah for more than three weeks and killing hundreds.
A draft resolution proposed by the United States and France faced opposition from Lebanon and other Arab nations because it would not call for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon.
Bush indicated he wants Israel to stay until an international force is deployed that can assist Lebanon in taking over control of the southern part of the country, where Hezbollah's operations are based.
"Whatever happens in the U.N., we must not create a vacuum into which Hezbollah and its sponsors are able to move more weapons," Bush said in a joint news conference with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "Sometimes the world likes to take the easy route in order to solve a problem. Our view is, it's time to address root causes of problems. And to create a vacuum is unacceptable."
Bush's remarks came in his first appearance since the draft resolution was circulated Saturday morning.
He and Rice spoke to reporters in a helicopter hangar on his ranch, where he is in the midst of a 10-day vacation, as one of the crickets that are so plentiful here hopped around at their feet.
Rice, who arrived here Saturday for talks with Bush, departed Texas to return to Washington.
"We understand that this has been a very emotional and indeed devastating and tragic set of circumstances for Lebanon and for Israel, and obviously the parties have views on how to stop this," Rice said.
"Their views are not going to necessarily be consonant about how to stop it," the secretary said. "The international community has a view. But of course we're going to take a little time and listen to the concerns of the parties and see how they can be addressed. "
Bush dressed in suit and tie for the press conference — a departure from the casual dress and more restricted media access that are typical at the ranch — has left negotiations to Rice and other diplomats and has not spoken with the prime ministers of Lebanon or Israel about the U.N. resolutions.
"Condi is handling those conversations, and she's doing a fine job of doing so," Bush said.
The international force Bush wants would be authorized in a yet-to-be-drafted second resolution at the United Nations, a document the United States hopes will pass quickly after the cease-fire resolution.
That first resolution calls for "a full cessation of hostilities" based on "the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations."
But it makes no explicit mention of an Israeli withdrawal, and it implicitly allows Israeli defensive operations.
"I understand both parties aren't going to agree with all aspects of the resolution," Bush said. "But the intent of the resolutions is to strengthen the Lebanese government so Israel has got a partner in peace."
Rice played down differences on the draft, saying it is a firm foundation that both sides can accept once "issues of timing and sequence" are worked out.
The resolution calls in the longer term for a buffer zone in southern Lebanon, which Hezbollah controls and where Israeli troops are now fighting. Only Lebanese armed forces and U.N.-mandated international troops — once they are deployed — would be allowed in the zone.
Bush indicated that the U.N. force would help enforce an arms embargo that would block any entity in Lebanon except the national government from obtaining weapons from abroad. That's aimed at blocking the sale or supply of arms to Hezbollah from Iran and Syria, which are believed to be the militia's main backers.
"This international force will help Lebanon patrol its border with Syria and prevent illegal arm shipments to Hezbollah," Bush said. "As these Lebanese and international forces deploy, the Israeli defense forces will withdraw."
Asked why the United States would not contribute ground troops to the international force, Bush compared it to the situation in Sudan's Darfur region. U.S. troops "would create a sensation around the world that may not enable us to achieve our objective," Bush said. He said U.S. troops would provide support to a U.N. ground force in Lebanon.