The Tony Snow Press Gaggle
Tony addressed a group of journalists in Russia who were following the President, the transcript of which was sent to me by email. Questions were mostly about the Lebanon and a fuzzy outline of the Administration's thinking on its resolution can be glimpsed. The full text follows, the emphasis is mine.
PRESS GAGGLE BY TONY SNOW TO THE TRAVEL POOL
Strelna, Russia 5:47 P.M. (L)
MR. SNOW: Okay, a couple of things. First, you probably heard that at 8:15 a.m. eastern time, U.S. time, a bomb went off outside Karachi. We don’t have a whole lot of details. I think most of it is on the wires already, but three dead, including a Shia cleric. This was near a university. No claims of responsibility. And, as you know, these things take a while to sort themselves out, so we have no comment; we're still trying to figure out what the facts are and we're in consultation.
Today on the plane, the President made some phone calls to foreign leaders regarding the situation in the Middle East. He talked to King Abdullah of Jordan -- I think your recorder just went off. Here's a quick tape pause. (Laughter.) He called king Abdullah of Jordan, they talked for, I don’t know, 12 minutes or so. He also talked to --
Q I'm sorry, how long?
MR. SNOW: About 12 -- these are all approximate, because I didn't look at my watch. But all the calls were between 10 and 12 minutes. The second one was to Hosni Mubarak, and the third was to Prime Minister Siniora of Lebanon. The topics were all the same. He thanked especially King Abdullah and President Mubarak for their help in trying to resolve the situation in the region.
Also expressed some -- he was pleased by a statement -- I don’t know if you've seen it -- that came out yesterday by the Saudis that, among other things, pointed out that Hezbollah, acting independent of a government, had behaved in a manner that I will paraphrase as irresponsible. I would direct you to the Saudi statement because I'm sure I don’t have that exactly right -- as a matter of fact, we actually did a print out of it. Let's see, "uncalculated adventures undertaken by elements in Lebanon without recourse to legal authority and consulting and coordinated with Arab nations."
In other words, what the Saudis were saying is that Hezbollah has been acting in a manner that's completely independent of the state of Lebanon. And we're looking forward to a foreign ministers meeting -- with Arab League Foreign Ministers tomorrow, and hope that their comments will reflect the same concern about Hezbollah's acting independently and thereby imperiling the democracy in Lebanon, which we support.
The President also reiterated his support for the democracy in his conversation with Prime Minister Siniora. They talked about ways to move ahead not only within the Arab League, but also the President encouraging his allies to speak out with everybody involved, including the Syrians and once again made the point that Hezbollah has been granted shelter in Syria, it is financed by Iran and both parties should be held responsible for some of the activities that are going on there.
He also reiterated the statement yesterday, that he believes that the Israelis have a right to protect themselves, and also that we think it's important that in doing that they try to limit as much as possible so-called collateral damage, not only to facilities but also to human lives.
So that is basically it.
Q Now, Siniora is describing the President's comments as promising to get Israeli to rein in its attacks. Did the President say anything like that?
MR. SNOW: No. What the President -- or, the President reiterated his position. Prime Minister Siniora at one point -- I think he's been public about this -- has wanted a ceasefire. It is unlikely that either or both parties are going to agree to that at this juncture, although we certainly hope that we get to a ceasefire soon and we hope that all parties work toward it.
But, again, as the President said, this began because Hezbollah crossed into Israeli territory, kidnapped two soldiers and, furthermore, has been engaged in a long series of rocket attacks on people in Northern Israel, although we have been focusing on it -- that is, "we" collectively, and especially the American press in the last couple of days -- this has been going on for a long time, it just hasn't reported. It's been a much keener and sustained interest in Israel.
The Israelis have decided to try to have targeted attacks against rocket launch sites, many of which are deliberately placed in civilian neighborhoods. And they regret the loss -- or they’ve expressed regret for the loss of innocent life, but they also pointed out that military necessity compels them to hit where the launchers are, but I will let the Israelis speak for themselves on this.
Q Did the President discuss with these leaders a U.N. delegation that's going into the region?
MR. SNOW: Yes. Well, we support the U.N. delegation. It really didn't go much further than that. As you recall from Secretary Rice's comments last night, she was actively engaged in helping put together the initiative and she certainly supports it and encourages it.
But as far as any specific directions, look, we think the United Nations is trying to helpful here, ad that's important, because the more pressure was can bring to bear on Hezbollah -- and there's an important point to note here: the attacks by Hezbollah, which, again, to reiterate -- I'll use the Saudi phrase once again, "without recourse to legal authority and consulting and coordinating with Arab nations" -- it is clear that the Arab nations -- that Saudi Arabia, that the Jordanians, that the Egyptians do not look upon Hezbollah as being a legitimate government entity, as a matter of fact, they look upon it as an active threat to the government of Lebanon.
And U.N. Resolution 1559 made it pretty clear that foreign powers ought to stay out of Lebanon and let the democracy itself take root. And so the United Nations is going there to work with strengthening the provisions of 1559. Prime Minister Siniora also wants help, and we support his aim, in making sure that his government acquires effective control over all Lebanese territory, including the southern regions where, in many places Hezbollah holds sway. And the President certainly offered his support for that goal. And, again, it's consistent with 1559.
Q Following up on something that came up last night with the Condi briefing -- is the President -- is the White House working with the G8 on a draft resolution to address this issue? Because she talked about how important it was to speak with one voice.
MR. SNOW: There were some draft resolutions underway before everybody headed over here. But I think it's safe to say that with the pace of events -- and I did speak to some of the people involved in negotiations -- they're going to have to redraft them. It is certainly going to be a topic of much concern and so I expect them to talk about it a lot. I don’t want to make any promises about draft resolutions, but it is important for everybody to speak one voice.
And I think the one area of common agreement is that Hezbollah cannot act independently of the government of Lebanon. What it has done is deliberately place in peril the people of Lebanon, as well as the government. And the President has also made it absolutely clear that we want that government to survive and thrive and we are going to do what we can to help them do that.
Q So there will be one kind of resolution or another, it's just that they have to be reworked?
MR. SNOW: I can't -- look, I don’t have a crystal ball. We'll just have to see what happens.
Q Okay. There may be resolutions.
MR. SNOW: Well, you don't call it "resolution." I think you have a statement or whatever. But, again, no promises on that; we'll just have to see what happens when the leaders get together.
Q The President didn't make any promises or anything to the Lebanese Prime Minister? Did he give him any idea of what he might try to do with Israel, as far as making them hold back a little bit on attacks?
MR. SNOW: The President is not going to make military decisions for Israel. What he said is that -- look, there have been ongoing conversations. As a matter of fact, today Secretary Rice -- let me pull out my list. I mentioned the three heads of state the President has talked with. Secretary Rice has talked to David Walsh, [sic] she's talked to Kofi Annan, the Qatari foreign minister, she talked to Mahmoud Abbas, she talked to Siniora, and she is working on trying to get -- well, I won't tell you who she's working on getting through to.
Q Who's David Walsh?
MR. SNOW: He's our -- Welch, I'm sorry. Welch. Sorry, can't read my own writing. David Welch.
Q Who is he?
MR. SNOW: He's our Assistant Secretary of State. He is traveling with Eliot Abrams through the region.
Q So the President has not -- you know, Condi last night was talking about Israel should exercise restraint. The President has not called any Israeli officials to make that point?
MR. SNOW: He has not spoken with Israeli officials. However, Secretary Rice and National Security Advisor Hadley have had a number of conversations.
Q Those conversations with the Israelis escalated over the last 24-48 hours or are we talking kind of over this 17-day --
MR. SNOW: Well, of course we've been talking through the 17-day period. But you must understand that what Hezbollah did -- look, there were active negotiations between the Israelis and other partners on the kidnapping. Hezbollah steps in, what, five days ago, six -- whatever. I mean, that is when you get a real escalation point. And the moment that happened, obviously, it became a matter of greater concern because it was pretty obvious that what Hezbollah is trying to do is to destabilize the situation. It has an interest in renewed violence at a time when Arab nations have been speaking out more and more about the importance of a two state solution; they agree with us on that.
And what is heartening to note is that a number of Arab nations are, in fact, saying to Hezbollah, sorry, you're on your own. And, in addition, they've been talking with the government of Syria because it is pretty clear that Syria has considerable influence over what goes on there.
Q Does the President have any plans to talk any Israeli leaders? Or at this point, no?
MR. SNOW: At this point -- look, I think -- the Israeli leaders have been consulted, and they've been consulted by the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor. And they'll continue their conversations and there is no -- I don’t want to say there's no need, I'd just say the President has not expressed any plans to speak with the Prime Minister, but should it become necessary, he will.
The rest is banter about President Bush's bicycle riding and his scheduled dinner with President Putin.
The main characteristics of the solution being glimpsed are that:
- It takes the part of Saudi Arabia in their rivalry with Iran; it plays upon the Kingdom's concern with Hezbollah. It's not that KSA is averse to Bad Guys. Just that Hezbollah are not their Bad Guys.
- There is the suggestion that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Jordanians are going sit with their hands folded while the IDF beats Hezbollah about the head and shoulders. Until then, a ceasefire is off the table.
- A deal will be in place to substitute for the fighting when the Hezbollah has been savaged enough.
It's likely that Iran will try to stir up the "Arab Street". But there seems to be some confidence indicated in the Snow's remarks that Hezbollah has gone out on a limb and sawed itself off.