White House officials said US President Bush remains
opposed to an immediate cease-fire to stop violence in the Middle East, despite
personal pleas from ally Saudi Arabia that he help stop the bloodshed.
President George W. Bush (C) smiles with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince
Saud al-Faisal as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (R) looks on
before their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington
July 23, 2006. [Reuters]
Saudi King Abdullah beseeched Bush to intervene in Israel's military campaign
against Hezbollah in Lebanon, where the death toll is approaching 400 after less
than two weeks of bombing. Abdullah's request was hand-delivered to Bush by
Saudi officials who requested a meeting Sunday at the White House.
"We requested a cease-fire to allow for a cessation of hostilities," Saudi
Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters as he departed the West
"I have brought a letter from the Saudi king to stop the bleeding in Lebanon,
and there has been an agreement to save Lebanese lives, Lebanese properties and
what the Lebanese have built, and to save this country from the ordeal it is
facing," Saud said.
Saud's comment reflected Bush's past statements that all want the violence to
stop. But Bush has refused to press for an immediate cease-fire.
"Our position on an immediate cease-fire is well known and has not changed,"
said White House national security spokesman Frederick Jones.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also participated in the Oval Office
meeting before departing for Israel in the first US diplomatic effort on the
ground since Israel began bombing Lebanon on July 12. The fighting has killed
hundreds in Lebanon and dozens in Israel.
On the way to a refueling stop in Ireland, Rice discussed the possibility of
working with Syria to resolve the crisis. In recent weeks, the Bush
administration has blamed Syria, along with Iran, for stoking the recent
violence by encouraging Hezbollah to attack northern Israel.
"The problem isn't that people haven't talked to the Syrians. It's that the
Syrians haven't acted," she said.
"It's not as if we don't have diplomatic relations," she said. "We do."
Officials from the United Nations, Europe and other Arab countries have
already urged an end to the fighting. Rice and Bush have rejected calls for an
immediate cease-fire, saying it does not make sense if the terrorist threat from
Hezbollah is not addressed. They have said Israel has a right to defend itself
from terrorism and Hezbollah must return two captured Israeli soldiers and stop
firing missiles and rockets into Israel if they want the fighting to stop.
For years, the Saudis have been among the United States' closest
allies in the Arab world.
Nail al-Jubeir, a Saudi embassy spokesman, said the Saudis would not release
the letter or get into other details of the proposal because it was a private
communication between Abdullah and Bush. Asked whether the Saudis requested that
Bush directly pressure Israeli leaders for a cease-fire, al-Jubeir said they
cannot tell the president whom to telephone. But he noted Bush has a unique
influence to negotiate with Israel.
"The US has the authority, it has the clout with Israel," he said. "For us
to go and talk to the Israelis isn't going to do anything."
A White House spokeswoman, Eryn Witcher, would not comment on the Saudi
proposal. She said Bush and the Saudis have "shared goals of helping the people
of Lebanon and restoring sovereignty of the government of Lebanon and building
stronger Lebanese armed forces."
"They discussed the humanitarian situation and reconstruction and putting
conditions in place for an end to violence," Witcher said.
Witcher said participants in the meeting including Saud; Prince Bandar bin
Sultan, the secretary general of the Saudi national security council; Prince
Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to the United States; Adil al-Jubayr, the
counselor to Abdullah; and Rihab Massoud, the deputy secretary general of the
Saudi national security council.
Rice plans meetings in Jerusalem and the West Bank with Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In addition, she
will go to Rome for sessions with representatives of European and moderate Arab
governments, including Saudi Arabia, with the goal of shoring up the weak
democratic government in Lebanon.
"There is only one problem in this crisis: It is
Lebanon, and the inability of Lebanon to exercise its sovereignty over its
territory," Saud said. "Everybody who needs to help, who must help, should