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George W. Bush Administration: President Bush and German Chancellor Merkel Discuss Middle East Crisis

(July 13, 2006)

Town Hall
Stralsund, Germany
12:34 P.M. (Local)

CHANCELLOR MERKEL: (As translated.) .....We also addressed the very disturbing situation in the Middle East, and it fills us with concern and we have also stated clearly that everything needs to be done in order to come back to a peaceful resolution. We need to remind all of us again how this escalation started, with the kidnaping of a soldier, through rockets -- for the firing of missiles against Israeli territory. And we can only urge all parties, appeal to all parties to stop, to cease violence and to also release the kidnaped soldier, and to stop this firing of missiles at Israeli territory. We would like to appeal to the powers in the region to see to it that further escalation is warded off, and that, first and foremost, the root causes of this conflict are removed. And only in this way will a negotiating process become possible again. We have every interest in seeing the Lebanese government be strengthened and this government being able to pursue its policies in a sensible and secure environment. ...

PRESIDENT BUSH: ...We talked about the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli issues with Hezbollah, and our common desire to work together to help bring peace to that troubled region. My attitude is this: There are a group of terrorists who want to stop the advance of peace. And those of -- who are peace-loving must work together to help the agents of peace -- Israel, President Abbas, and others -- to achieve their objective. You got to understand when peace advances, it's in the terrorists' interests in some cases to stop it. And that's what's happening. We were headed toward the road map, things looked positive, and terrorists stepped up and kidnaped a soldier, fired rockets into Israel. Now we've got two more kidnapings up north. Hezbollah doesn't want there to be peace. The militant arm of Hamas doesn't want there to be peace. And those of us who do want peace will continue to work together to encourage peace. ...

Q A question addressed to you both. You talked about the Middle East, and what is your assessment of the military action of Israel in Lebanon? The French Foreign Minister already said it is disproportionate. Does that give you cause for Europe or the United States to intervene? ...

CHANCELLOR MERKEL: ...Well, as to the violence in the Middle East, particularly as regards Lebanon, I think that one needs to be very careful to make a clear distinction between the root causes and the consequences of something. So we started here from a case of kidnaping of a soldier, and one of the other root causes also is the activity of Hezbollah. And it's most important for the Israeli government to be strengthened, but it is also clearly shown that these incursions, such as the kidnaping of soldiers, is not acceptable. And the parties to that conflict obviously have to use proportionate means, but I am not at all for sort of blurring the lines between the root causes and the consequences of an action. There has to be a good reaction now, not from the Israeli government, but from those who started these attacks in the first place.

PRESIDENT BUSH: -- to help calm the situation, we've got diplomats in the region. Secretary of State Rice, who is here, is on the phone talking to herf counterparts. I'll be making calls.

I gave you my initial impression earlier, and that is that it's a sad situation where -- when there is a very good chance for there to be a two-state solution enacted -- that is two states living side-by-side in peace -- it's really sad where people are willing to take innocent life in order to stop that progress. As a matter of fact, it's pathetic. And having said that, Israel has a right to defend herself. Every nation must defend herself against terrorist attacks and the killing of innocent life. It's a necessary part of the 21st century. Secondly, we -- whatever Israel does, though, should not weaken the Siniora government in Lebanon. We're concerned about the fragile democracy in Lebanon. We've been working very hard through the United Nations and with partners to strengthen the democracy in Lebanon. The Lebanese people have democratic aspirations, which is being undermined by the actions and activities of Hezbollah. Thirdly, Syria needs to be held to account. Syria is housing the militant wing of Hamas. Hezbollah has got an active presence in Syria. The truth of the matter is, if we really want there to be -- the situation to settle down, the soldiers need to be returned, and President Assad needs to show some leadership toward peace. To answer your question about the involvement, we will be involved diplomatically, and are involved diplomatically. Steve.....

Q Does the Beirut -- the attack on the Beirut airport, does that concern you, and are you concerned about triggering a wider Middle East war?

PRESIDENT BUSH: As I mentioned, my biggest concern is whether or not actions taken will weaken the Siniora government. Democracy in Lebanon is an important part of laying a foundation for peace in that region. We have worked really hard to get Syria out of Lebanon -- U.N. Resolution 1559, and it's follow-up Resolution 1680 were manifestations of the work of the international community to get Syria out of Lebanon. We've always felt that a democracy in Lebanon is important for the Lebanese people, and it's important for the region. So the concern is that any activities by Israel to protect herself will weaken that government. And we have made that -- or topple that government -- and we've made it clear in our discussions. Having said all that, people need to protect themselves. There are terrorists who will blow up innocent people in order to achieve tactical objectives. In this case, the objective is to stop the advance of peace --  which is a remarkable statement, isn't it? Willing to kill to stop peace. We have a good chance to get a two-state solution, two democracies living side-by-side in peace. It is a clear and achievable vision. There is a way forward called the road map to achieve that vision. What will prevent that vision from being achieved is -- are terrorist activities, and that's what you're seeing taking place. Thank you all.


END 1:03 P.M. (Local)

Sources: The White House