The Bush administration says it stands with the international community in wanting an end to bloodshed along the Israeli-Lebanese border, but only when the groundwork for a lasting cessation of hostilities has been laid.
With each passing day, as the death toll mounts in the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah militants, international calls for a ceasefire grow stronger, and the abstinence of the United States from such calls comes under greater scrutiny. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the United States is attempting to balance immediate concerns for the loss of innocent life with the long-term goal of forging a solution that will prevent future conflicts.
"Hezbollah and their backers have dragged innocent people into the current situation, so Secretary Rice's view, President Bush's view, I think a view that is widely shared, is [that] you want to arrive at a cessation of violence," said Mr. McCormack. "But you want that cessation of violence to unfold in such a way that you have a solution whereby the world, the region does not end up in the same place it is right now three weeks from now, three months from now, three years from now."
In New York, America's representative to the United Nations, John Bolton, questioned whether a ceasefire would be effective or even possible.
"Any ceasefire is going to have to be accompanied by a qualitative change in the situation," said Mr. Bolton. "The simple reflexive action of asking for a ceasefire is not something that is really appropriate in a situation like this. Because you have to know who the parties would be to any cessation of hostilities. How do you get a ceasefire with a terrorist organization? I'm not sure it's possible."
Israel has said it has no intention of halting strikes on Hezbollah positions until the group's ability to launch attacks on Israel is eliminated, and the United States has shown no appetite to publicly pressure Israel to cease military operations, at least for now.
The Bush administration notes that the international community has placed blame for the crisis squarely on Hezbollah. McCormack said Saudi Arabia and other nations in the region have a role to play in ending the conflict by pressuring Syria and Iran to halt their support of militant group.
Thursday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice travels in New York to meet with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Friday, she is to be briefed by a U.N. team returning from the Middle East. Rice has said she is more than willing to travel to the Middle East, but only when she deems it appropriate and helpful to do so.
At the State Department, McCormack was asked about the possibility of an international security monitoring presence for southern Lebanon. The spokesman was non-committal, except to say, in his words, "It is a very interesting idea."
McCormack was more forthright when asked about the possibility of aid for Lebanon, which has been pounded by Israeli air strikes.
"Certainly the Lebanese people, who have been victimized by Hezbollah and its actions, will have needs," he said. "So certainly, we want to look and have begun discussions with our partners in the international arena about ways in which we, as an international community, might help the Lebanese people."
Meanwhile, the first chartered flight carrying U.S. evacuees is expected to arrive at an airport north of Washington Thursday. U.S. officials say nine chartered flights have been arranged so far from Cyprus, where evacuees have been shuttled from Lebanon by air and sea. State Department officials say 1,200 Americans were evacuated from Beirut Wednesday, and a similar number is expected to be taken to safety Thursday. An estimated 25,000 U.S. citizens were in Lebanon at the start of the conflict last week.