THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN NICK BURNS ANA Hotel Tokyo, Japan
1:45 P.M. (L)
MR. BURNS: Okay, let me go to Lebanon now. I'd like to do this ON THE RECORD.
Q For camera?
MR. BURNS: This is NOT ON CAMERA, no. This is -- if you're interested, we can talk about that later. But actually, I'd prefer not to because we're so far away from the action.
But let me just tell you --
Q What about -- for radio?
MR. BURNS: We're ON THE RECORD, right. David would prefer not to, but let me just do this ON THE RECORD for print now; if you have any special needs we can talk about it afterwards, okay, after we're done.
On Lebanon, the United States has continued until the present hour, very energetic, strenuous efforts to try to resolve the problems between Israel and Hezbollah and others in the region to stop the fighting and to return the situation to one of at least calm and normalcy where there is no fighting on either side and no risk to civilians on either side.
Secretary Christopher had a conversation at 1:45 a.m. this morning with the French Foreign Minister, Mr. de Charette. De Charette is in the Middle East, he was in Cairo at the time, he's been touring Damascus, Jerusalem, Cairo, in an attempt by the French to resolve the problems between Israel and Hezbollah.
The aim of the United States here is to strengthen and deepen the understanding that we have had since 1993, the summer of 1993, with Israel, Hezbollah and Syria, namely that Israel won't attack targets in Lebanon, Hezbollah will not target civilians in Northern Israel. That agreement held the peace for the better part of three years. That agreement, of course, broke down with Hezbollah's Katyusha rocket attacks against Northern Israel, beginning on April 9th.
So our diplomatic objective here is to strengthen and broaden that agreement, to return to it, but perhaps in the process strengthen it. That, we believe, will provide a basis for the fighting to stop. This means that Hezbollah must stop its Katyusha rocket attacks on Northern Israel. And we think if it does, there will be a corresponding and positive reaction in Israel.
Now, what we have done over the past four or five days is to lay on the table in Jerusalem, Beirut, Damascus and by information in many other Arab capitals a set of United States proposals that we believe would return the situation to one of calm and end the fighting.
There are others who are acting along these lines, most notably the French government. And we are working with the French, we congratulate the French in their effort. I can't say that their proposals are exactly consistent in all respects with ours, but I think the spirit of those proposals is exactly consistent, and I know that when Secretary Christopher ends his activities here in Tokyo today, when we get on the airplane, he'll call Minister de Charette, they'll have another conversation. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the Secretary then had some other conversations with Arab leaders in the region.
He intends to work on this pretty continuously throughout the next 24 to 48 hours. Our objective is to, as quickly as possible, end the fighting. The civilian casualties on both sides -- Arab casualties as well as Israeli casualties -- are unacceptable to all of us, and we do want the fighting to end.
Let me just end my brief summary with one brief note, which some of you have heard me say before, and that is we do have a point of view as to how this situation reached this very deplorable state, and that is we think Hezbollah miscalculated fundamentally last Wednesday in reacting to events in the security zone in Southern Lebanon by its attack of Katyusha rockets on civilians on Matulla (phonetic) and Kiryat Shemona and other towns in Northern Israel.
Q How so? Why do you say that?
MR. BURNS: How so? I say it because unfortunately, throughout well over a decade, there have been a series of security incidents, attacks back and forth in the security zone in Southern Lebanon. The incidents that took place before April 9th were not in any way different in terms of the nature of those incidents or their impact, than any of the ones that had come previously during many, many years.
For Hezbollah to violate the 1993 agreement and to fire rockets not on Israeli army positions, IDF positions, but at Kiryat Shemona and Matulla (phonetic) and other civilian towns, inflicting, I think, over 50 casualties on Israeli civilians, was really unprecedented.
Now, the basis for that reaction we think was flawed; they misinterpreted what had happened, they certainly attributed to Israel blame that we don't believe is appropriate. That's what I mean by that.
Q Is it your view that they expect to get something out of it that they didn't get, or that the reaction that they got was not what they wanted, or what?
MR. BURNS: We think they miscalculated, they simply saw perhaps a cause and effect that wasn't there. They saw, perhaps, some intentions on the part of the Israelis that we don't think were there. And I think -- and this is always very difficult to do; what they've got to do now is recognize that one way to end this is to stop the Katyusha rocket attacks, which have continued until today.
Q Nick, can you give us a more specific assessment of the current initiative on Lebanon? I mean, you are -- your assessment, saying, of course -- can you be more precise?
MR. BURNS: Well, Mr. de Charette I think was sent by President Chirac to try to see if France could play a role in ending this conflict. France and the United States have that common objective, number one. Number two, I think we both have relationships in the area that would serve us well in trying to reach that objective of peace. Number three, I think the French have put some specific ideas on the table. They are, in spirit, consistent with ours, but obviously is a proposal which, in some ways, is different. I've not gone into the details of our proposal for obvious reasons.
Secretary Christopher and Minister de Charette agreed that two things would happen -- number one, we would exchange -- our experts would get together overnight, which I believe has happened, to let each other know exactly what we are doing, who we're talking to and what the specific nature of our proposals is, and, number two, they would keep in touch personally, which they will do in just a couple of hours when Secretary Christopher's plane leaves, he'll call him from the plane.
So it's a time, Christian, where there are lots of different proposals floating around. Obviously, the United States, as the father of the 1993 accords, believes that we are in a very good position to try to put those accords back into effect and to strengthen them, and we would like French support in doing so.
Q Can I ask you about your comment about the miscalculation? I'm not sure I understand that. Is what you're not saying the thought that Hezbollah perhaps thought they'd get some tacit, at least, support from Arab states that they are not getting?
MR. BURNS: I say miscalculation because for well over a decade there have been, unfortunately, attacks by Hezbollah on the army of South Lebanon, the IDF. There have sometimes been attacks by the IDF on Hezbollah and others in Lebanon itself.
Nothing happened prior to April 9th that was dramatically different than the decade-long, more than decade-long series of attacks back and forth. For Hezbollah to unleash an unprecedented Katyusha rocket barrage against Northern Israel had to mean that they saw something there that wasn't there -- or perhaps to look at it your way, that they intended to achieve something that they simply can't achieve. It was a miscalculation, I think from both of those perspectives.
Q Nick, do you have from Israel a certain policy that if these Katyusha rocket attacks end, so will the retaliatory strikes?
MR. BURNS: Well, I think you've heard Prime Minister Peres say publicly just in the last 24 hours that Israel does not want to see this go on forever, but Israel has to defend itself, the United States understands that and supports that decision to defend itself, and that Israel has to take the means to protect its civilian population.
But clearly, Israel does not want this military offensive to last forever. There has to be a way to resolve it. We believe that Hezbollah, having provoked this, of course must play a large part in ending it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:55 P.M. (L)