Bush Concerned About 'Fragile Democracy' in Lebanon

July 7, 2008 - 7:31 PM

(CNSNews.com) - The Iranians can't expect to "wait out" the United States; Russia can't expect to have good relations with the U.S. if it doesn't encourage democracy; and what's happening to peace efforts in the Middle East is "pathetic," President Bush told a news conference in Germany on Thursday.

Bush, on his way to the G8 meeting in Russia, stopped first in Germany to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Middle East

President Bush said it's a "sad situation" when a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible -- but certain people are "willing to take innocent life in order to stop that progress."

Israel has a right to defend itself, President Bush said. "Every nation must defend herself against terrorist attacks and the killing of innocent life. It's a necessary part of the 21st century."

But President Bush, citing concerns about the "fragile democracy in Lebanon," urged Israel not to weaken the Lebanese government.

"We've been working very hard, through the United Nations and with partners, to strengthen the democracy in Lebanon," he said. The [Lebanese] people's democratic aspirations are being undermined by Hizballah, he said.

He also said "Syria needs to be held account" for sheltering the militant wing of Hamas and for allowing Hizballah to have an active presence in Damascus.

"The truth of the matter is, if we really want the situation to settle down, the [captured Israeli] soldiers need to be returned and [Syrian] President Assad needs to show some leadership toward peace."

"My attitude is this: there's a group of terrorists who want to stop the advance of peace. And those of us who are peace-loving must work together to help the agents of peace -- Israel, President Abbas, and others -- to achieve their objectives."

President Bush expressed the belief that just when things "looked positive" and the two sides were getting back to the road map peace plan, "terrorists stepped up" and kidnapped soldiers and fired rockets into Israel.

"Hizballah doesn't want there to be peace. The militant arm of Hamas doesn't want there to be peace," he said.

Iran

As far as Iran is concerned, the United States and other leading nations must have a common goal [no nukes for Iran] and a united message -- that's the key to success in dealing with the recalcitrant country, President Bush said.

"I truly think they're trying to wait us out," Bush said about Iran, but he added that Iran will be "disappointed that this coalition is a lot firmer than they think."

He said the world agrees that Iran must not have nuclear weapons, and he also expressed satisfaction that the Iranian issue will be taken to the U.N. Security Council.

He said Iran can "show up any time and say, 'Wait a minute, now we'd like to go back and negotiate.' Bush said the U.S. is "not precluding any further negotiations with the Iranians."

Bush said there's "no question" that the Iranian issue can be solved diplomatically, if the Iranians do what they said they would do -- which is to stop uranium enrichment in a verifiable fashion. In that case, the United States "would be more than pleased to come back to the table," he said.

Putin

Asked about what message he will bring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Bush said his job is to "continually remind Russia that if she wants to have good relations, she ought to share common values with us." He specifically mentioned freedom of speech and a free press.

"I will continue to carry that message," Bush said, indicating that what he says to Putin behind closed doors is not for public consumption. "No one really likes to be lectured a lot," he said. "And if you want to be an effective person ...what you don't do is scold the person publicly all the time. You remind him where you have a difference of opinion, but you do so in a respectful way."

Bush said he'll be "firm about my belief in certain democratic institutions...but I'm also going to be respectful of the leader of an important country."

For the record, President Bush brushed aside President Putin's recent criticism of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Putin on Wednesday criticized Cheney for saying that Putin's government has failed to advance democratic reforms. Putin said Cheney's comments were "like his bad shot on the hunting trip."

Bush called Putin's jibe clever and humorous.

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