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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs

August 18, 2006

Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns
Good afternoon. I am pleased we were able to reschedule this important discussion on the Middle East. As Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, I oversee the State Department's bureaus for Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, the Near East, South and Central Asia, the Western Hemisphere, International Organizations and International Narcotics and Law Enforcement. I look forward to answering your questions.

Gregory, from Torrance, CA writes:
Dear Secretary Burns: The majority of the Arab world believes that Hezbollah won simply by standing up to Israel and fighting better than anticipated, doesn't this cease fire endanger Israelis and Americans by not allowing Israel to finish off Hezbollah? Thank you.

Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns
We don’t believe there have been any winners in this conflict as hundreds of Israeli and Lebanese people have been killed and thousands of homes have been destroyed. Hizballah started the conflict by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers and launching rockets across the internationally recognized Blue Line. This terrorist organization must be disarmed if there is ever to be peace in the region. Along with our French and British allies and the rest of the UN Security Council, we worked hard to pass a resolution that helps the democratic government of Lebanon expand its sovereign authority and lays out the political principles to secure a lasting peace.

Security Council resolution 1701, once implemented, will be a strategic setback for Hizballah, as well as its patrons in Tehran and Damascus. When fully implemented, Hizballah will no longer be able to threaten Israel from southern Lebanon. Nor will the group have the ability to fortify itself along the border as it has over the past six years, as the UN resolution puts into place an arms embargo that calls upon states not to resupply Hezbollah.

Aiden, from Minneapolis writes:
How are Israeli and Lebanese citizens coping with the destruction of their homes, and is there anything I can do to help?

Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns
President Bush and his entire Administration are deeply concerned about the plight of the Israeli and Lebanese people during this trying time. You can help assist U.S. government humanitarian efforts by making contributions to humanitarian organizations that are conducting relief operations.

Information on identifying such organizations is available in the "How Can I Help" section of (keyword: Lebanon) or by calling the Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI) at 703-276-1914. USAID encourages cash donations because they allow aid professionals to procure the exact items needed (often in the affected region); reduce the burden on scarce resources (such as transportation routes, staff time, warehouse space, etc); can be transferred very quickly and without transportation costs; support the economy of the disaster-stricken region; and ensure culturally, dietary, and environmentally appropriate assistance.

More information can be found at:

  • USAID: (keyword: donations)
  • The Center for International Disaster Information: or (703) 276-1914
  • Relief activities of the humanitarian community at

Thanks very much for being willing to help the citizens of both Lebanon and Israel who have suffered in the war.

Roy, from Durham writes:
Dear Sir, What is your opinion on the UN? To me, it seems like they are corrupt, anti semitic, in effective, run by Arabs (25 of the member countries), and pretty much, useless. I very much admire John Bolton for his efforts at reform and keeping our best interests at mind, but it seems that the UN will not be able to have any peace in the middle east. Besides, what resolution will stop millions of people who won't rest until every jew and american is dead? Can the UN do anything, because it sure looked like UN 1559 was useless and unheeded. Thanks. Roy

Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns
The U.S. helped found the U.N. because we believed in the ideals it was created to advance: peaceful resolution of disputes, mutual security, economic progress and human rights. Sometimes the U.N. has lived up to those ideals, and sometimes it hasn’t. We are determined to help reform the U.N. to make it more effective, efficient and more focused on its core missions. In Lebanon, the U.N. has an important challenge to meet. The implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701 will not only benefit Lebanon and Israel; it also has important regional implications. As Secretary Rice has noted, the U.N. Security Council Resolution is a victory for all who are committed to moderation and democracy in the Middle East - and a defeat for those who wish to undermine these principles with violence, particularly the governments of Syria and Iran. One of the most important aspects of Resolution 1701 is a call for all countries to observe an arms embargo on any weapons transfers into Lebanon except for things that are going to the Government of Lebanon and authorized security institutions. I believe that the United Nations should be supported by our country. While imperfect, it is still does excellent work in disease prevention and alleviating poverty. As the host nation and largest contributor, we Americans have an interest in helping the U.N. to succeed.

Michael, from Powell, TN writes:
How is our relations with Saudi Arabia?

Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns
The United States and Saudi Arabia have a strong relationship, as we have since Saudi Arabia's founder, King Abdulaziz, met with President Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy in 1945. This relationship has continued under successive Kings and Presidents, including King Abdullah and President Bush. Today, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are close partners in combating terrorism, and are working together to address a range of regional and bilateral challenges through the U.S. - Saudi Arabia Strategic Dialogue, which was established by President Bush and King Abdullah in April 2005. The first session of the Dialogue took place in November 2005 in Jeddah, and was chaired by Secretary Rice and Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

As the host of Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia is the spiritual center for Muslims around the world. Saudi Arabia also plays a critical and constructive role in the world economy as the world's leading exporter of energy. And as we face the challenges of the 21st century, we look to Saudi Arabia to play a leading role in supporting peace, moderation and reform in the Middle East.

Yogesh, from Bangalore - India writes:
US is looked as a powerful nation. US govt is taking measures again terrorist outfits concern only to US and UK. But what about other nations, who like to leave in peace. There are some millitant outfit here operating from POK or pakistan and killing thousand in here over some years. Is there any perticular policy established towards global terrorism?.

Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns
As President Bush reminded us on Monday, we are fighting a global war on terror that targets peace-loving countries around the world. And as the President noted, the biggest lesson of the past week is that there is still a war on terror going on and there are still individuals who aim to kill innocent people to achieve political objectives. Our efforts to combat terrorism span the globe, including counter-terrorism training programs in nearly 100 countries. We work every day with other governments to help keep Americans safe and to help other governments keep their peoples safe.

The U.S. is a great friend of India. We admire your democracy and civilization. Our two countries are developing a close strategic partnership. We are fundamentally opposed to all groups that direct terrorism at India. We were saddened by the Mumbai bombings, and stand with India in the fight against terrorism.

Kelvin, from Indianapolis, IN writes:
I have read in the papers recently that the Bush administration has "had increasingly limited contact with Iran and Syria," and that this has severely hampered U.S. ability to resolve issues in the Middle East. Is it true that our contact with Iran and Syria has been decreasing? And, if so, do you think that it is undermining our efforts in the Middle East?

Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns
The problem is not with our lack of communication. As Secretary Rice has said, the problem is that Syria and Iran do not act when people talk to them. In Syria, we do have an Embassy and formal diplomatic relations with its government. We communicated serious messages to Syria during the recent war in Lebanon. Our communication with Syria is active as we seek solutions to the problems in the Middle East. Our message to Damascus remains consistent: it's time for Syria to make a strategic choice and change its behavior. As you know, however, the US has not had formal diplomatic relations with Iran since 1979. It is for this reason that we have decided to tackle the Iran nuclear problem through multilateral diplomacy, working with our allies and the international community to find a solution. This is an effort that we take very seriously and in which we are actively engaged.

Lise, from New York City writes:
How will UN resolution 1701, or any current efforts of the international community, stop Hezbollah's teachings of hatred, killing, and destruction of Jews and Israel?

Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns
We remain concerned with any organization that teaches hatred, and we are actively engaged through our public diplomacy efforts to contradict these teachings. We will continue to oppose those -- like Iran, Syria and Hizballah -- who question Israel’s right to exist. The passage of Resolution 1701 is a good first step, but it is only a first step. It creates the conditions that could lead to a lasting peace and it will help the democratically elected government of Lebanon expand its sovereign authority. We are enhancing the current UN force in Lebanon – UNIFIL – with a robust mandate, a greater scope of operations, better equipment, and an increase to 15,000 soldiers. The Lebanese Armed Forces, together with this new international force, will deploy to the south of the country to protect the Lebanese people and stabilize the area. This is a defeat for those who wish to undermine order with violence, particularly the governments of Syria and Iran.

In addition, the United States is helping to lead relief efforts for the people of Lebanon, and we will fully support them as they rebuild their country. As a first step, we have increased our immediate humanitarian assistance to $50 million. To secure the gains of peace, we are helping the Lebanese people emerge from this conflict with more opportunities and greater prosperity – creating the social and economic conditions that will drown out Hizballah’s reprehensible rhetoric.

wayne, from champlin minnesota writes:
I am very concerned about Iran getting nuclear weapons especially when President Bush leaves office. They have the money and desire to get them. What must be done to stop this from happening? Sincerly Wayne

Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns
The U.S. government, along with the rest of the international community, is working hard to make sure this does not happen. Secretary Rice said on May 31 that the vital interests of the United States and our friends and allies in the region are at risk because of Iran’s continued defiance of the international community, and that the United States will act accordingly to protect those common interests. Our allies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia are very much with us in seeking to isolate and pressure Iran to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions. Over the past 18 months, President Bush and Secretary Rice have worked to create a united response of the world's major powers to blunt Iran's designs. I have traveled to Europe over a dozen times as the primary liaison with the EU-3 and Russia and China on this issue.

As a result of our efforts, we have achieved an unprecedented unity among the major powers of the world on how to address the Iranian regime’s nuclear weapons ambitions. We have agreed on a set of far-reaching proposals as a basis to find a negotiating solution with Iran. On July 31, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1696, which sent a very strong signal to Iran that it has a choice to make: cooperation or further isolation. If Iran does not suspend uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities by August 31, it will face further action in the Council, including sanctions. We strongly urge Iran to accept the generous offer made by the Governments of the permanent members of the Security Council and Germany.

Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns
Thank you for your interesting questions on the Middle East. It was a great pleasure to speak with you today.

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