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French Version

Siniora extracts promise of White House support

In a powerful show of support for Lebanon's government, U.S. President George W. Bush renewed Tuesday his country's support for a free, sovereign and independent Lebanon following talks with Premier Fouad Siniora. "I told the prime minister that the United States strongly supports a free and independent and sovereign Lebanon," Bush told reporters following the meeting at the White House.

He cited the country as an example of the type of democratic change he wants to see in the Middle East, amid strains between Israelis and Palestinians, and unrest in Iraq.

"There is no question in my mind that Lebanon can serve as a great example for what is possible in the broader Middle East," he said.

Lebanon's case, he said, "shows that it is possible for people with religious differences to live side by side in peace, to show that it's possible for people to put aside past histories."

The president also said he wanted to see justice done in the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri.

"We talked about the need to make sure there is a full investigation into the death of former Prime Minister Hariri. And we'll work with the international community to see that justice is done," Bush said.

Siniora said he appreciated American support.

"I am really convinced that President Bush and the United States will stand beside Lebanon to have Lebanon remain a free, democratic, united and sovereign state. And the United States is really of great importance in this regard, whether this can be done directly or indirectly," he said.

Siniora was meeting with Bush after conferring with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

During his three-day stay, Siniora plans meetings with several members of the Cabinet and Congress, officials of international lending institutions and Arab diplomats.

On his way to Washington, Siniora told reporters he also intends to highlight the importance of U.S. assistance in "backing Lebanon's independence and sovereignty and enabling it to recover its occupied Lebanese territories."

He was referring to the disputed Shebaa Farms area, where the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Israel meet.

Asked whether he was hopeful the U.S. may pressure Israel to withdraw from the farms, Siniora replied: "It is not impossible, if they want to help in allowing the Lebanese government to impose its authority on all its territories."

However it was not mentioned during the joint news conference whether Siniora had discussed this request with Bush.

Siniora has promised to overhaul Lebanon's political and economic systems. The country's economy is suffering from zero growth and a foreign debt of more than $38 billion.

Siniora was accompanied by his finance, economy, justice and foreign ministers.

After his talks in the U.S. capital, Siniora will travel to New York to meet with UN chief Kofi Annan.

Before Siniora left for Washington, Hizbullah officials warned him against making commitments to Washington regarding disarmament of the resistance, as demanded by Security Council Resolution 1559.

Asked Monday about Siniora's visit, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Rice will stress U.S. support for the Lebanese government's continuing efforts at political and economic reform.

"She will also underscore the importance of implementation of all UN Security Council resolutions, including 1595," McCormack said.

In Beirut, Siniora's visit was criticized by pro-Syrian figures, under the pretext it precedes

for an American hegemony over Lebanon and the region.

"Premier Siniora, who is seeking solutions to the Lebanese crisis from Washington and Europe, must know that the solutions lie here and in Syria ... not with Bush and French President Jacques Chirac but with the Lebanese and the Syrian Presidents," said pro-Syrian Druze spiritual leader Bahjat Ghaith.

"We are not questioning Siniora's intentions but we warn against any American interference in our internal affairs," said MP Hassan Yaacoub.

Yaacoub said Siniora's visit would only be significant if the premier succeeds in convincing the Americans to pressure Israel to withdraw from Shebaa Farms.

Beirut 24-04-2006
The Daily Star

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