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U.S. Faces Limited Diplomatic Options in Mideast


U.S. officials continue to say that Israel has the right to defend itself. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will take that message to the Middle East. She's expected to leave for the region on Sunday.

For a look at how this diplomatic effort could be received there, we turn to Judith Palmer Harik. She is a retired political science professor at the American University of Beirut.

Harik says Secretary Rice will have a difficult task.

Professor JUDITH PALMER HARIK (Retired Professor of Political Science at the American University in Beirut): I think she probably will talk to some of the Arab allies of the United States, like Jordan and Egypt. But when she turns around to face the Lebanese situation here, there's not much to negotiate about at this point. The Lebanese government is incapable of extending its authority anywhere near as far as demanding or receiving a cease fire.

YDSTIE: What about Hezbollah itself? Can Rice talk through intermediaries to Hezbollah? She certainly is unlikely to talk to Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah.

Prof. HARIK: Well, that hasn't happened to date. There has been no dialogue or even intermediary conversation that I know of that draws the United States into any kind of a dialogue with Hezbollah.

YDSTIE: What about Syria? President Bush famously said at the G8 summit that Kofi Annan ought to call Syria and get them to stop Hezbollah.

Prof. HARIK: Well, that's what happened in the past. In the past two large Israeli incursions in Lebanon, that's in 1993 and 1996, in both those instances, a Secretary of State from the United States actually traveled to Damascus and tried to get Damascus to intervene. And in each instance that happened, the powers that be in Damascus simply said, well, this is a legitimate resistance and there's nobody that can actually tell them what to do.

Now, of course Syria has quite a bit of clout. But this time I really can't see that the United States would want to be seen going, cap in hand, to Damascus to ask for this intervention.

YDSTIE: Do the other Arab states that you mentioned have leverage? The Saudis, Egypt, Jordan?

Prof. HARIK: I really don't believe they have any leverage. And there's been considerable similar type destruction in the past. But in all those cases, virtually no one, neither the Arab League or France or anyone, could halt the attacks by Hezbollah.

YDSTIE: Can the U.S. be seen as a broker? It's clearly taken Israel's side in this fight.

Prof. HARIK: Well, of course, to most people in the Arab world, there is no possibly of the United States ever being seen as a broker if a broker means someone equal distance from both opponents. And this war, it's very difficult for them to play any role of that sort. But both parties are extremely adamant. There doesn't seem t be any backing off possible by the two combatants.

YDSTIE: If the actors are stuck in their positions and there doesn't seem to be anyone with any leverage, what kind of diplomacy is possible here?

Prof. HARIK: Well, you know, I'm - I'm scratching my head a little bit on that one. I only know that Hezbollah is absolutely adamant about what it's doing, and the Israelis want those two soldiers back. And you can be certain that Hezbollah is not going to give those soldiers back unless they are able to get their people back from Israel and to release a lot of the Palestinian political prisoners that Israel has been holding for some time. I'm not seeing room for diplomacy here.

YDSTIE: Thanks very much.

Prof. HARIK: Thank you very much.

YDSTIE: Judith Palmer Harik is a retired political science professor at the American University of Beirut. She's also author of Hezbollah: The Changing Face of Terrorism. She spoke to us from her home in the mountains north of Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.