U.S. says ‘we do not want escalations’ in Mideast fighting
CRAWFORD, Texas – The White House said Wednesday neither Israel nor Hezbollah should escalate their month-old war, as Israel decided to widen its ground invasion in southern Lebanon.White House press secretary Tony Snow said the U.S. message was for both sides, though his remarks came after Israel’s Security Cabinet voted to expand the war effort in an attempt to deal further blows to Hezbollah.”We are working hard now to bridge differences between the United States position and some of the positions of our allies,” Snow told reporters in Texas, where President Bush was vacationing. “We want an end to violence and we do not want escalations.”Meanwhile, rifts over a plan to stop the fighting delayed approval of a resolution at the U.N. Security Council. The U.S. and France were offering competing versions.France proposed new language on a cease-fire and Israeli pullout, but the Americans rejected it out of concern that the Lebanese could not assert control over Hezbollah strongholds in the south without help from a robust international force.”The Lebanese army, while an absolutely essential part of any solution, is not itself independently capable of dealing with the problem, at least not yet,” Snow said.He said the United States was working on another draft resolution, but he would not estimate when a vote might be possible.”I think at this point it’s beyond any of us to come up with a firm prediction about when you get a resolution,” he said.U.S. and French diplomats had been hoping for a vote on the draft early this week. But the differences between the co-sponsors meant that a Security Council vote on the resolution to try to end the fighting would be delayed at least until late Thursday.”I know from the outside, diplomacy looks a bit like a mosh pit, but there is actually a structure and order to the discussions,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.Neither McCormack nor Snow would talk in detail about disagreements at the U.N. or how the United States was negotiating to solve them.”The question is whether the United States and its allies can bridge those gaps,” Snow said. “We’re not declaring an impasse here.”In Washington, other U.S. officials said negotiators have the framework of a deal that could address Lebanese, Arab and French concerns over the timing of an Israeli withdrawal. Lebanon and other Arab nations have demanded an immediate pullout.As a practical matter, Israeli forces would need several days or longer to leave, and the departure would be coordinated with deployment of a replacement force that is acceptable to the Lebanese, U.S. officials said. They spoke only on condition of anonymity as the discussions were continuing.The composition and mandate of the replacement force is also a sticking point in the Security Council negotiations over a cease-fire proposal, but U.S. officials said it could be a combination of Lebanese and foreign forces, perhaps under the banner of an existing United Nations peacekeeping force.Bush talked to British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the phone for 20 minutes Wednesday, and U.S. diplomats have been calling other foreign leaders and updating the president.”I dare say the president’s very actively engaged in this,” Snow said. “He may go for a bike ride in the morning, but he’s spending a lot of time, morning, noon and night working these issues.”The United States has been Israel’s strongest supporter during its cross-border war with Hezbollah, an Islamic political and military movement that had held de facto control of southern Lebanon along the Israeli border. The fighting began after Hezbollah crossed the border and killed and kidnapped Israeli soldiers.—AP Diplomatic Writer Anne Gearan contributed to this report from Washington.
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