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Rice rejects ‘false promise’ of quick cease-fire, plans Middle East trip

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, embarking on a diplomatic mission to the troubled Middle East, said she would work for “stability and lasting peace” instead of the immediate cease-fire demanded by much of the rest of the world.

A cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon would be a “false promise” if the root causes of the conflict are not addressed, the top U.S. diplomat said.

“An immediate cease-fire without political conditions does not make sense,” she told reporters.

President Bush addressed the issue in his weekly radio address Saturday and consulted with Turkey’s prime minister.

“Secretary Rice will make it clear that resolving the crisis demands confronting the terrorist group that launched the attacks and the nations that support it,” Bush said on the radio.

“For many years, Syria has been a primary sponsor of Hezbollah and it has helped provide Hezbollah with shipments of Iranian-made weapons,” the president said.

“Iran’s regime has also repeatedly defied the international community with its ambition for nuclear weapons and aid to terrorist groups. Their actions threaten the entire Middle East and stand in the way of resolving the current crisis and bringing lasting peace to this troubled region,” he said.

Bush, spending the weekend at his Texas ranch, telephoned Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose predominantly Muslim country has close ties with Israel

“They continued their consultations on the situation in Lebanon, discussing ways to address the humanitarian needs of the Lebanese people and Secretary Rice’s trip to the region,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

Perino said Bush also pledged U.S. assistance to deal with the “terrorist threat” from the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, after its fighters killed 15 Turkish soldiers in three separate attacks last week.

Rice plans meetings in Jerusalem and the West Bank with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as sessions in Rome with representatives of European and moderate Arab governments that are intended to shore up the weak democratic government in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut.

Rice defended her decision not to meet with Hezbollah leaders or their Syrian backers during her visit.

“Syria knows what it needs to do, and Hezbollah is the source of the problem,” Rice said as she previewed her trip, which begins with a stop in Israel on Monday and Tuesday.

Asked why she didn’t go earlier and engage in quick-hit diplomacy to try to end the violence, Rice replied, “I could have gotten on a plane and rushed over and started shuttling and it wouldn’t have been clear what I was shuttling to do.”

The crisis began when Hezbollah, an Islamic militant group that operates in southern Lebanon, captured two Israeli soldiers. Israel retaliated by carrying out bombings across Lebanon and slapping a naval blockade on the country. Hezbollah fired hundreds of missiles into Israel.

Rice said the United States is committed to ending the bloodshed, but not before certain conditions are met. The Bush administration has said Hezbollah must first turn over the two captured Israeli soldiers, and stop firing missiles into Israel.

The United States has resisted international pressure to lean on its ally Israel to halt the fighting. The U.S. position has allowed Israel more time to try to destroy what both nations consider a Hezbollah terrorist network in southern Lebanon.