CRAWFORD, Texas – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert thanked President Bush on Friday for his work on a resolution to stop violence between Israel and Hezbollah, the White House said. It was the first direct talks between the two leaders since the fighting began.
The eight-minute phone call with Bush at his ranch in Texas was initiated by Olmert, said Frederick Jones, spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House.
Olmert endorsed a Mideast cease-fire plan that the United States and France proposed Friday at the United Nations.
"Prime Minister Olmert thanked President Bush for the work he had done on the draft U.N. resolution on the Lebanon crisis," Jones said. "The president expressed his view that the crisis was provoked by Hezbollah with the support of Iran and Syria and that we need to ensure that the reach of the Lebanese government extends throughout the country."
The agreement, which was unanimously adopted by the U.N. Security Council, calls for putting 30,000 Lebanese and U.N. troops along the Israel-Lebanon border, where Hezbollah militants have been fighting against Israel. It falls short of some of Israel's demands, including a strong mandate for the U.N. forces to take on Hezbollah guerrillas.
But Israel has been unable to defeat Hezbollah and was concerned about growing Israeli casualties, as well as international condemnation, if the war continued. The fighting has killed more than 800 people, destroyed Lebanon's infrastructure and inflamed tensions across the Middle East.
Bush has staunchly backed Israel in the fighting and the U.S. has been arguing Israel's interests during the U.N. negotiations. Olmert spoke repeatedly to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the last four weeks but never directly to Bush until Friday.
Rice predicted that both governments would accept the agreement.
"We have heard from the government of Lebanon that they also believe that this is a resolution that can serve their interests," Rice said in an interview on Friday. "In fact, the interests of both the Israelis and the Lebanese now is to end the large-scale violence and to begin to lay a foundation for peace."
The White House had predicted that a previous draft it was pushing would come to a vote earlier in the week, but negotiators were forced to make changes to address objections from Lebanon and other Arab states.
"A lot of times diplomacy is a bit like a taffy pull, in that you think you may have something that seems to be right on the verge of being completed, and it just gets extended a bit," White House spokesman Tony Snow said. "As the president has pointed out, diplomacy can be a little bit messy and unpredictable."