US rules out talks with Hezbollah

WASHINGTON, July 24, 2006 (AFP) – The White House rejected the idea Monday of holding negotiations with Hezbollah and urged regional powers to pressure Syria and Iran to cuts its ties with the Lebanese militia.

"With whom do you negotiate in Hezbollah? It’s not like they have a secretary of state. It’s not like they have a foreign ministry. It’s a terror organization," said White House spokesman Tony Snow.

"And therefore it is impractical to think that one can negotiate with it."

Snow said the United States could only hold talks with the government of Lebanon, with meetings underway Monday between Lebanese officials and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Beirut.

"Hezbollah bears responsibility for starting this," White said in reference to the July 12 capture of two Israeli soldiers in a deadly raid on an Israeli base that prompted the military response from the Jewish state.

While the United States supports the idea of a ceasefire, said White, "it’s under the conditions that are going to make it durable and sustainable."

He said Hezbollah’s current action did not point in favor of a ceasefire in the short term.

"Apparently, Hezbollah does not intend on a ceasefire," he said in reference to continued rocket attacks against Israeli targets.

In the face of growing international criticism of the Israeli military campaign, Snow said the United States was also concerned about the humanitarian cost of the war, but again laid blame for the civilian casualties on Hezbollah.

"We are concerned about the humanitarian cost of what’s going on, and we think that that is a result of Hezbollah holding as much of the nation as it can as human shields," Snow said.

He also urged regional powers to use their ties with Syria and Iran to pressure the two nations, which Washington views as state sponsors of terrorism, to end their ties with Hezbollah.

Snow said "there are ways" for the United States to deliver its message directly to Syria, but again steered clear of mentioning possible direct negotiations between Washington and Damascus.

"You also know that regional powers are, I think, doing what they can to talk with the government of Syria, to tell it to cease and desist, and with the government of Iran, to suspend relationships and support for Hezbollah."

Iran has denied that it orchestrated the July 12 Hezbollah attack, but both nations have come out in public support of the militia since the start of the Israeli assault on Lebanon.

Snow said the United States can relay messages to Syria through its ambassador to Washington and the US charge d’affaires in Damascus.

"So we have ways — there are situations in which we are able to — there are ways in which we can communicate directly about what our desires are," Snow said.