U.S. Senate Democratic leaders on Friday called on President George
W. Bush to send a high-level special envoy to the Middle East to work
with allies and negotiate an end to the fighting between Israel and
Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry
Reid of Nevada and Sen. Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Foreign
Relations Committee, said in a letter to Bush they were “surprised”
that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned only a brief stop in
the region next week.

“The United States needs to step forward
and do the hard diplomatic work required to put in place a sustainable
settlement and prevent a return to the status quo ante where Hizbollah
attacked Israel at will,” they wrote.

“Unfortunately, the
architecture that you have constructed to deal with the Middle East is
not adequate, as it does not allow for the kind of high level and
sustained involvement that is required,” they added.

They urged Bush to appoint a high-level envoy “without further
delay,” adding Israel had the right to defend itself and that they
supported Israel’s efforts to eliminate the threat posed by Hizbollah.

announced on Friday plans to travel to the region on Sunday and attend
an international meeting in Rome next week, saying she hoped to help
create conditions for a lasting Middle East peace. Rice reiterated the
U.S. position that an immediate ceasefire would not help achieve that

© Reuters 2006