Can Secretary Rice Broker Mideast Truce?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," July 28, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: As Condoleezza Rice prepares to head back to the Middle East, British Prime Minister Tony Blair went to the White House to meet with the president. The world leaders both say it will take more than an immediate cease-fire to solve the Mideast conflict.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And so one of the things that the people in the Middle East must understand is that we're working to create the conditions of hope and opportunity for all of them. And we'll continue to do that, Tom. That's the challenge of the 21st century.


GIBSON: Joining us to talk about the push for peace is Tom Casey, the State Department deputy spokesman.

So Mr. Casey, tomorrow Condoleezza Rice goes back. She stops in Beirut first and then on to Jerusalem. What is the message this time around?

TOM CASEY, STATE DEPT. DEPUTY SPOKESMAN: Well, the message this time around is that we made some very significant progress in Rome in terms of laying the groundwork, for getting the long-term solution to the fighting there. And so she is going to be talking with the Lebanese prime minister, with the leaders of Israel.

And she's going to be working with them to get an agreement on some of the more specific nature of what this force is going to look like and how that force is going to be used, to help do what is in everybody's interest, which is making sure that the Lebanese government, the legitimate government of that country can control its whole set of territories so it can really be in charge of the country.

And so we can do what the international community said it was going to do a long time ago, which is give that government real responsibility, real sovereignty and allow it to be a good neighbor to Israel and the rest of the countries in the region.

GIBSON: Mr. Casey, what do you say to the notion that a lot of people are articulating that the secretary of state is stalling for time so that the Israelis can pound Hezbollah down to a level they would find acceptable?

CASEY: Well, look, what the secretary has said and what the president has said is that we all want to end the fighting and we do want to do it as soon as possible. But what it is important is that we end it in a way that's sustainable.

It doesn't do us any good if we start along the path of a cease-fire, some temporary, papered over solution and wind up with Hezbollah firing rockets back at Israel again a day later, a week later or a month later.

So what we're working for is something that's going to be a lasting solution to this problem. And it's difficult work, but we've made a lot of progress already, and the secretary, I'm sure, is going to be making more during her stop in the Middle East tomorrow.

GIBSON: Mr. Casey, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, is asking for a 72-hour cessation of fire to get relief supplies into Southern Lebanon and to get, you know, non-combatants out, civilians out. Would the U.S. go along with that?

CASEY: Well, I think what we would go along with and what we are doing is working with the U.N. to expand the existing humanitarian corridors that are there, and we put a lot of effort into that with the Israelis and relief supplies are, in fact, flowing down to the south now. You've seen that the United States has done its part.

We've put in large numbers of medical supplies. We provided some cash contributions to the Red Cross. Other countries are doing the same, and what's important now is that we keep our eye on the ball and focus on how to move it forward.

GIBSON: Mr. Casey, before I run out of time with you, what is the State Department's take on the fact that some of the Arab nations — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, that group that condemned Hezbollah — are walking back from that a little bit and starting to point the finger of blame back at Israel?

CASEY: Well, look, I think it's understandable that everyone is concerned about the suffering of the Lebanese people that has been brought on by these Hezbollah attacks.

But I don't think anyone should come to the conclusion based on what those countries are saying that they in any way, shape or form, are justifying the actions that Hezbollah took.

And they're still with us. They've been working with us in Rome and we're going to have them working with us throughout this process, because it's in their interest that we get this long range solution that allows the Lebanese to take hold.

GIBSON: Tom Casey, the State Department deputy spokesman, thanks very much.

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