WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced plans Friday for talks with Israeli, Palestinian and Lebanese leaders as part of a new U.S. diplomatic effort in the Middle East conflict, but warned that the United States would not support a cease-fire that fell short of disarming Hezbollah and restoring Lebanese government control.
On the eve of her foray into the crisis, Rice warned against the “false promise” of an immediate end to hostilities that would only trigger more violence “five or nine months” down the road.
“There are no answers that are easy, nor are there any quick fixes,” Rice said at a news conference outlining talks scheduled in Israel on Monday and a meeting about Lebanon with U.N., European and Arab officials on Wednesday in Rome.
“What I won’t do is go to some place and try to get a cease-fire that I know isn’t going to last,” she said.
The Bush administration is instead trying to develop a three-pronged plan that will address the political, economic and security aspects of an eventual resolution, Rice said. But she tried to lower expectations of what would be achieved during her trip.
“A cease-fire would be a false promise if it simply returns us to the status quo, allowing terrorists to launch attacks at the time and terms of their choosing, and to threaten innocent people, Arab and Israeli, throughout the region,” she told reporters at the State Department. “That would be a guarantee of future violence.”
The goal is to ensure that southern Lebanon is not a haven for private armies that attack neighboring states and “throw the whole country into chaos,” Rice said.
At the United Nations earlier Friday, Rice, Secretary General Kofi Annan and Security Council members met to discuss terms for a new international military force to deploy in Lebanon.
But there are deep fissures emerging over the mandate of its mission, and whether it would be dispatched to simply separate the warring parties or to tackle the dismantling of Hezbollah’s well-armed militia. The U.N. force’s structure, size and mandate will be discussed further in Rome, when Rice meets with the new Lebanon contact group.
On her trip, Rice will meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem and President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, U.S. officials said. But in a noticeable gap in her trip, Rice will not go to the Arab world, because Arab leaders are concerned about hosting a U.S. visit that will not include a call for an end to hostilities.
Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia were all uninterested in hosting a visit at this juncture, according to U.S. and Middle East officials.