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Bush Meets Saudi Officials on Middle East Crisis


President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are meeting with Saudi officials to discuss ways to end the bloodshed between Israel and Lebanese based Hezbollah forces. After the session at the White House, Rice will head to the region for talks on the latest Middle East crisis.

White House officials are downplaying prospects for a breakthrough during Rice's meetings in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

They say an immediate cease-fire will ot work, and only a sustainable solution that disarms Hezbollah and strengthens the young democratically elected Lebanese government will end the bloodshed.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says that is the message the Secretary of State will take to the region. He spoke on the Fox News Sunday television program.

"We have got to think of the longer term here. There may be an opportunity. We have got to go about it in a sustained fashion," said Bolton.

In a subsequent appearance on CNN's Late Edition, Bolton was asked about indications from Israel that it might accept a NATO-led peacekeeping force along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Bolton said it was a new idea, but one worth serious consideration.

"I think we all need to be creative," he commented. "But we need to keep the idea before us within the larger political solution Secretary Rice is seeking."

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," noted Bolten.

Rice heads to the Middle East after joining President Bush at his meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud-al-Faisal and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the head of the Saudi National Security Council

She 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.