WACO, Texas – President Bush said Saturday that his administration's diplomatic efforts in the Mideast will focus on strategy for confronting Hezbollah and its supporters in Syria and Iran.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned to depart for the region after an Oval Office meeting on Sunday with Bush and Saudi officials.
Bush said he has directed Rice to discuss with Mideast leaders how best to end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. The chief U.S. diplomat will not meet with Hezbollah leaders or their Syrian backers.
In his weekly radio address, Bush repeated his position that Hezbollah is responsible for starting the fight by capturing Israeli soldiers and launching rocket attacks against Israeli cities.
"Secretary Rice will make it clear that resolving the crisis demands confronting the terrorist group that launched the attacks and the nations that support it," Bush said. (Full transcript)
Israel retaliated by carrying by bombing targets in Lebanon and setting up a naval blockade on the country. Bush said Israel has a right to defend itself.
Rice plans meetings in Jerusalem and the West Bank with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. She also scheduled sessions in Rome with representatives of European and moderate Arab governments that are intended to shore up the weak democratic government in Lebanon's capital, Beirut.
Bush also said on the radio that Syria has been Hezbollah's primary sponsor for years and helped provide shipments of Iranian weapons.
"Iran's regime has also repeatedly defied the international community with its ambition for nuclear weapons and aid to terrorist groups," Bush said. "Their actions threaten the entire Middle East and stand in the way of resolving the current crisis and bringing lasting peace to this troubled region."
He said he is concerned about the impact of the fighting on democracy in Lebanon. "By its actions, Hezbollah has jeopardized Lebanon's tremendous advances and betrayed the Lebanese people," Bush said.
Bush was spending the weekend at his Texas ranch. He was returning to Washington on Sunday -- a day earlier than originally planned -- to meet with Rice, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, chief of the Saudi National Security Council.
From Texas on Saturday, Bush telephoned Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose predominantly Muslim country has close ties with Israel, to discuss the situation in Lebanon and Rice's trip.
Rice says she does not envision U.S. troops being part of a potential peacekeeping contingent in southern Lebanon. "We are looking at what kind of international assistance force makes sense, but I do not think that it is anticipated that U.S. ground forces are expected for that force," she said Friday.