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Bush Meets Rice on Proposed UN Mideast Resolution


President Bush is consulting with top aides at his Texas ranch on steps to halt the fighting in the Middle East. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says a draft U.N. resolution under review by the Security Council is the first step toward bringing the bloodshed to an end.

Secretary Rice says it is important to get a vote on the resolution in the next day or two to clear the way for an end to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.

"I would hope that you would see very early on, an end to the kind of large-scale violence, large-scale military operations, and firing of rockets, that we have been seeing," she said.

The proposed resolution, which was negotiated by France and the United States, calls for a cessation of hostilities leading to a permanent ceasefire. Rice acknowledges it is not likely to bring a total end to the violence overnight. All the same, she says the resolution is an important first step.

"I cannot say that you should rule out that there could be skirmishes of some kind for some time to come," noted Rice. "This is not meant to be a permanent condition. It is meant to create conditions on which a more permanent enduring ceasefire can be built."

Speaking to reporters near the president's Texas ranch, Rice said once this resolution is passed, the Security Council will move to the next phase and begin the process of authorizing an international force and strengthening the Lebanese government.

"This is really, now, an opportunity to extend the authority of the Lebanese government throughout its own territory. That really has to be the goal. Everybody is focused on the international forces, but the international forces are there to assist in the important work of getting the Lebanese to fill the vacuum that has developed in the south," added Rice.

But Lebanese officials have criticized the draft resolution because it does not call for a complete withdrawal from Lebanon of Israeli forces.

Rice told reporters the resolution keeps forces in place, while dealing with the violence that has taken such a high toll on civilian populations on both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese border.

She stressed no one wants to see the Israelis remain indefinitely, and that includes the Israeli government. And, she said, the resolution will offer the world an opportunity to see the true intentions of both parties to the conflict - Israel and Hezbollah.

"Now, I know Hezbollah has said all kinds of things. I have heard 'we should have an immediate ceasefire,' and 'we will keep fighting,' I have heard all of these things. What we need to focus on is, when this Security Council resolution is passed, we are going to know who really did want to stop violence and who did not," she said.

Rice said the United States has been consulting with other Security Council members on the draft resolution. She said there have been positive comments, most notably from Russia, one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council with veto power.