Rice to visit Middle East soon

US stresses that report from special UN team be heard before issuing UNSC resolution.

rice russia 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
rice russia 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be leaving soon for the Middle East in an attempt to help restore calm to the Israel-Lebanon front. The trip has not formally been announced yet, but President George W. Bush told British Prime Minister Tony Blair about his intention to dispatch Rice to the region in a private conversation during the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said later that Rice would be going to the region "at some point in the future." The US is still demanding that the abducted Israeli soldiers be released and Hizbullah be removed from the border area before moving forward with a cease-fire in the region. Though Bush did support the G-8 resolution calling for examining the possibility of deploying an international force in the region, the US is taking a cautious approach regarding such a mission. During preliminary discussions in the UN Security Council Monday, the US stressed that before approving any resolution regarding a multinational force for Lebanon, all sides should wait for a report by the special team sent to the region by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. US ambassador to the UN John Bolton said following the Monday discussions that there needed to be an agreement on the mandate of such a force before deciding on sending troops to the region. "Would such a force be empowered to deal with the real problem - Hizbullah?" Bolton asked, adding that there was a need to deal also with the support provided by Syria and Iran to the group. The US approach, which does not endorse the immediate dispatch of troops to the region, is in line with Israel's view. Israel has already tagged the suggestion as premature and does not favor the deployment of an international force before the objectives of the military operation in Lebanon are achieved. While putting off diplomatic efforts to reach a cease-fire in Lebanon, the US is now focusing its efforts on evacuating American citizens stranded in bombarded Beirut. Marine helicopters began taking out US citizens from Lebanon to Cyprus and the evacuation operation is expected to reach full speed on Tuesday, when a chartered cruise ship will provide transportation for Americans wishing to leave the country. There are an estimated 25,000 US citizens in Lebanon and the State Department has called on them to get ready to leave.