British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called Monday for the deployment of international forces to stop Hezbollah from bombing Israel, an issue that has overshadowed the summit of world leaders.
President Bush, not realizing his remarks were being picked up by a microphone, bluntly expressed his frustration with the actions of Hezbollah, a militant Islamic group believed backed by Iran and Syria that is engaged in escalating warfare with Israel.
“See the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this (expletive) and it’s over,” Bush told Blair in a discussion before the Group of Eight leaders began their lunch.
Bush also suggested that Annan call Syrian President Bashar Assad to “make something happen.”
To help stop the fighting, the European Union in Brussels announced it is considering deploying a peacekeeping force in Lebanon. France, meanwhile, said it is sending Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to Beirut to express support for Lebanon’s government.
“The blunt reality is that this violence is not going to stop unless we create the conditions for the cessation of violence,” Blair said after talks with Annan on the margins of the G-8 summit.
“The only way we’re going to get a cessation of hostilities is if we have the deployment of an international force into that area that can stop the bombardment over into Israel and therefore gives Israel a reason to stop its attacks on Hezbollah,” Blair said.
Annan appeals for restraint
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry said that his country would welcome a more energetic and decisive international effort to bring about immediate and full implementation of Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1680, which call for the disarmament of Hezbollah.
Annan also appealed to Israel to abide by international law, spare civilian lives and infrastructure.
“We should not inflict any more suffering on them,” Annan said. “Both parties should bear that in mind and respect international humanitarian law.”
Annan said the United Nations was considering evacuation plans for U.N. dependents from Lebanon, while Blair said Britain was looking at the possibility of creating an air bridge for its citizens.
The comments by Blair and Annan came a day after world leaders forged a unified response at their G-8 summit to the crisis in the Middle East, blaming Hezbollah and Hamas for the escalating violence and recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself — although they called on the Jewish state to show restraint.
“I am most pleased that the leaders came together to say, look, we condemn violence. We honor innocent life,” Bush said before heading into a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “For the first time, we’ve really begun to address with clarity the root causes of the conflict ... and that is terrorist activity — namely Hezbollah, that’s housed and encouraged by Syria.”
Bush also asserted that the militant Islamic group is financed by Iran. However, the G-8 statement makes no mention of Syria or Iran. Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters that Russia blocked the effort to name Syria.
“If we don’t have enough grounds to blame somebody, we cannot ... put them in documents on such a serious state level just based on assertions,” Putin said.
Trade, India bombings on agenda
Bush’s remarks at lunch were picked up by the summit’s closed-circuit television, which was filming the leaders sitting down to eat. Normally, the images are transmitted with sound that does not allow reporters to pick out individual comments. But in this case, a microphone picked up Bush’s comments to Blair.
The leaders of major industrialized countries — the United States, Russia, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada — convened Monday for their final sessions with seven leaders of the developing world. The nations represented include a trio of emerging economic powerhouses — China, India and Brazil.
The expanded group that met Monday issued a statement expressing their outrage at the Bombay commuter train bombings that killed at least 200 people. “We are determined to continue the fight against terrorism by all legitimate means,” the statement said, pledging help to bring justice to those responsible.
The last day of talks focused on more traditional summit fare, such as restarting stalled global trade talks and implementing a major debt relief program for the world’s poorest nations that was announced at last year’s summit.
Bush, who also met individually with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio da Silva, said that the two would discuss how to move the Doha trade round forward, referring to the stalled trade talks being conducted by the 149 member nations of the World Trade Organization.
In his meeting with Singh, Bush called a recent agreement to share nuclear technology with India “landmark cooperation” despite criticism that the agreement could undermine efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
On Sunday, the G-8 leaders had struggled to come up with a unified position on how to deal with the escalating warfare between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. The leaders’ statement said extremist groups cannot be allowed to plunge the Middle East into violence. It also urged Israel to exercise restraint in its military campaign.
The statement was a compromise between a U.S. position strongly supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist attacks and the views of other G-8 countries that Israel was engaging in excessive force.
The statement was carefully written so that different countries could claim it said different things.
French President Jacques Chirac said it was evident from the statement that the G-8 was calling for a cease-fire on both sides of the conflict. But Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, disagreed, saying, “There was no push by any country for a cease-fire.”
The Bush administration insisted the call for halting Israeli airstrikes was conditioned on Hezbollah releasing captured Israeli soldiers and ending missile attacks on Israel, although the statement was not clear on these points.