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Bush Meets With Saudi Officials on Mideast Crisis


President Bush met privately at the White House Sunday with top Saudi diplomats as the search continues for a formula to end the bloodshed between Israeli and Lebanese-based Hezbollah militants. The meeting took place just hours before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to head to the region.

President Bush and Secretary Rice met for about an hour with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the head of the Saudi National Security Council.

The talks were held in private, with no public comments. But after the session, the foreign minister spoke briefly with reporters.

He said he gave President Bush a letter from Saudi King Abdullah calling for an immediate ceasefire. "We requested a ceasefire to allow for the cessation of hostilities that would allow for the building of the forces of Lebanon," he said.

Saud said the primary concern is protecting Lebanon's sovereignty, adding President Bush is well aware of the toll the conflict is taking on the Lebanese people. "I found the president very conscious of the destruction and the bloodshed the Lebanese are suffering and anxiety to see the cessation of hostilities," he said.

But the Bush administration has said an immediate ceasefire will not work, and that only a long-term solution that disarms Hezbollah while strengthening the Lebanese government will ensure peace.

The Saudi Official refused to speak about the differences of approach to the matter, saying only that he did not want to say anything that would jeopardize Secretary Rice's trip. He also sidestepped questions about reports the United States wants Saudi Arabia to use its leverage with Syrian to convince Damascus to rein in Hezbollah.

Earlier, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, told the Fox News Sunday television program that Rice is going to the region to convince others that a long-term solution that addresses the root causes of the violence is needed. "We've got to think of the longer term here. There may be an opportunity. We've got to go about it in a sustained fashion," he said.

In a subsequent appearance on CNN's Late Edition, Bolton was asked about indications from Israel that it might accept an international peacekeeping force along the Israeli-Lebanese border under NATO command Bolton said it was a new idea, and one worth serious consideration. "I think we all need to be creative. But we need to keep the idea before us within the larger political solution Secretary Rice is seeking," he said.

On NBC's Meet the Press, White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten said a NATO force is one possible option to help end the fighting. But he said it is unlikely U.S. troops will be involved. "Secretary Rice said the day before yesterday that she didn't consider that at all likely. But she will be talking with our friends and allies about whether and when a force might be appropriate and how it might be constructed," he said.

Rice plans to consult in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and in the West Bank with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. She will travel on to Rome Wednesday for talks on the crisis with European and Arab officials.

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