U.S. President George Bush is again calling on Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon -- days after former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in Beirut Monday.
Lebanese citizens continued to mourn their slain former Prime Minister, going to his gravesite to pay their respects Thursday. Mr. Hariri's family and Lebanese opposition politicians blame the killing on Syria, which has strong influence, and thousands of troops in Lebanon. Mr. Hariri opposed the Syrian presence in Lebanon.
In Washington Thursday, U.S. President George Bush stopped short of linking Damascus to the assassination. But he said the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Margaret Scobey, has been called home for consultations, after she delivered a stern message to Damascus.
"We've recalled our ambassador which indicates the relationship is not moving forward, that Syria is out of step with the progress being made in the greater Middle East, that democracy is on the move and this is a country that isn't moving with the democratic movement," says president Bush.
President Bush also said Syria is harboring anti-Iraqi insurgents, supporting terrorist groups and ignoring U.N. resolutions calling for foreign troops to be withdrawn from Lebanon. At the same time, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was testifying before U.S. lawmakers. She told them the administration still believes diplomacy is the best way to deal with Syria.
"We believe we have many, many diplomatic tools at our disposal here, and although the President always keeps his options open, we are employing those tools, and, I think, employing them very well," says Dr. Rice.
In a related development, Syrian Prime Minister Mohammad Naji al-Otari and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami met in Tehran Thursday, a day after Iran and Syria announced a pact to confront foreign threats and pressure. Also on Thursday, Iran called on other countries in the Middle East to join together to defeat what Tehran is calling "U.S. and Israeli plots." The U.S. and its European allies have been pushing Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.