CAIRO – The summit between US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday proved "hot air" and more "hand-wringing" as they stopped short of calling for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon to stop more civilians killings by the indiscriminate Israeli assault, activists and politicians said on Saturday, July 29.
"It is simply hot air. Despite the previous spin we have heard in recent days, their position is exactly the same; they are still endorsing continuing Israeli aggression against Lebanon. There is a huge amount of anger around the country about that," Andrew Murray, chairman of the Stop the War Coalition, told Britain's The Independent newspaper.
Bush and Blair defied the growing anger across the world by seeking a UN resolution that fell far short of a ceasefire to end the killing of Lebanese civilians.
Speaking after talks at the White House, Bush said the US would be tabling a UN Security Council resolution this week to seek an end to hostilities "as soon as possible" but it failed to meet the demands for a ceasefire.
Bush further announced that on Monday, August 1, the UN Security Council will discuss the creation of a multinational force to patrol a buffer zone on the southern Lebanon border.
The international aid charity dismissed the summit's outcome as more "hand-wringing" in the face of rising death toll.
"The prime minister's use of the language of urgency masks delay," Phil Bloomer, Oxfam's director of campaigns and policy, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) Saturday.
"The UK Government must now unequivocally back the international community's call for an immediate ceasefire to stop the killing and human suffering. The more the hand-wringing continues, the more lives are lost and the greater the difficulty will be to bring about a sustainable peace."
At least 600 Lebanese people, mostly children and civilians, have been killed and thousands wounded since Israel launched its 17-day onslaught after Hizbullah had taken prisoner two of its soldiers.
The hard-won infrastructure of the Arab country has been left in ruins, with Israel knocking out Beirut international airport, bombing ports, destroying bridges, setting power stations ablaze and reducing houses to rubble.
"Yet our aim is to turn it into a moment of opportunity and a chance for a broader change in the region," said Bush. (Reuters)
UK cabinet ministers warned that Blair's refusal to stand up to Bush again would hasten his own exit from power.
"This whole episode is very damaging for Tony," one cabinet source told The Independent.
"They can cobble together a resolution but it won't be a solution to the violence. Tony thinks there is an arc of Islamic extremists like the Fascists in the Second World War. But this war is acting as a recruitment sergeant for the extremists."
The source was dismissive about Blair's attempts to influence the President.
"The only special relationship the US has is with Israel. This is all driven by internal US politics. I don't know why Tony hasn't told Bush we have internal political pressures too."
Bush seemed a bit subdued during the news conference, although he opened the session with a playful gesture, tapping on his microphone and telling Blair, "You share with me your perspective -- and you let me know when the microphone is on."
That was a reference to their last meeting at the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, when an open mike captured banter between the two that rekindled criticism in Britain that Blair is too deferential to Bush.
A Guardian/ICM poll showed last week that the the large majority of Britons opposed the Blair-Bush political marriage and wanted a divorce and independence from the United States.
At the news conference that followed the summit, Bush said he is sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice back to the Middle East this weekend to negotiate the details of the proposed US resolution that he said could help achieve "lasting peace and stability" for Israel and Lebanon.
"This is a moment of intense conflict in the Middle East," Bush said "Yet our aim is to turn it into a moment of opportunity and a chance for a broader change in the region."
US officials and foreign diplomats described Bush's plan as saying that the halt in fighting would be conditioned on a broader political settlement in which the international force would help the Lebanese government police the south and maintain a buffer zone separating Hizbullah from Israel, if not disarm the resistance group, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
Analysts said Bush's proposals are wishful thinking as he cannot dictate his terms on Hizbullah.
"Hezbollah can accept a cease-fire, but I don't think it can accept those conditions," said Martin S. Indyk, a Clinton administration official who now heads the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, told the Post.