WASHINGTON – The White House on Monday urged Hezbollah and Israel to respect the newly imposed cease-fire in their month-long war as President Bush conferred with senior advisers about national security problems around the world.
Bush said that "we live in troubled times" but he expressed confidence about protecting the nation from harm.
On his first day back from vacation, Bush traveled to the Pentagon to meet with senior advisers, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and others. Later, he was to travel to the State Department to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also was having lunch with a group of people identified by the White House as experts on Iraq.
Three sessions were scheduled at the State Department, all with Rice attending but a shifting cast of experts on terrorism, foreign aid and the volatile Middle East.
Bush's meetings came on the inaugural day of the Mideast truce. "Right now, what's won is diplomacy has won," White House press secretary Tony Snow said, referring to the U.N. resolution that stopped the fighting. He said it wasn't easy to reach the agreement. He said there was a "diplomatic taffy-pull as we tried to figure how to get to the resolution that all sides would support."
Snow said it was obvious that Hezbollah had been weakened by the battle — although Israel did not achieve its objective of delivering a knockout blow to the guerrilla group. He said the ceasefire's success "will require placing on the northern border of Lebanon somebody who is capable of handling security in such a way as to intercept, interrupt and, with any luck, stop the transport into Lebanon of arms from Iran and Syria."
"We hope that everybody will stay true to the cease-fire and that the government of Lebanon, again, will be able to have the credibility," Snow said.
"But, you know, a piece of paper outlines the way forward, but a lot of times that still has to be conducted by people on the ground," the press secretary said. "The people also within Lebanon, the Lebanese government has a role to play, the governments of Syria and Iran have a role to play, Hezbollah has a role to play, the Israelis have a role to play. And we'll have to see how all those things work out in the hours, days and weeks ahead."
Bush made a brief statement at the opening of his meeting at the Pentagon.
"We live in troubled times, but I'm confident in our capacity to not only protect the homeland but in our capacity to leave behind a better world," Bush said.
"It's very important for the American people to know that we're constantly thinking about how to secure the homeland, protect our interests and use all assets available to do our jobs," the president said.
The list of challenges facing Bush spread far beyond the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel.
While that deadly battle has dominated headlines and the attention of the administration's diplomatic team, sectarian violence has surged in Iraq and created what some consider the greatest threat to stability there since Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled three years ago.
Nearly 12,000 U.S. and Iraqi soldiers are being sent into Baghdad to curb the surge.
The president's visits to the Pentagon and State Department were the first of several that Bush plans this week with key advisers. Tuesday, he was to meet with his homeland security team at the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Va. On Friday, he scheduled a summit with economic advisers at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.
Bush usually holds the meetings each August at his ranch near Crawford, Texas. But with the pressing issues abroad and his party at risk of losing control of Congress in the November elections, Bush limited his time away from the White House this summer.