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President Bush Calls on Syria to Pull Its Troops Out of Lebanon


President Bush has pledged to continue promoting democracy in the Middle East and has renewed his call for Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon. Some analysts, however, warn that the Bush administration should not overestimate its ability to drive change in the region.

President Bush demanded that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon before parliamentary elections in May.

"All Syrian military forces and intelligence personnel must withdraw before the Lebanese elections for those elections to be free and fair," he said.

In a speech at the National Defense University in Washington D.C., Mr. Bush called on Syria to end its nearly 30-year occupation of Lebanon or become even more isolated in the world.

He said that freedom will prevail in Lebanon and sided with anti-Syrian protesters in recent weeks, who have demanded that Syria remove its 14,000 troops, following the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. In what he called a message to the Lebanese people, Mr. Bush said the world is witnessing a great movement of conscience.

"Lebanon's future belongs in your hands, and by your courage, Lebanon's future will be in your hands. The American people are on your side. Millions across the earth are on your side. The momentum of freedom is on your side," he said.

Mr. Bush said that democratic elections in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories showed that across the Middle East, a critical mass of events is taking the region in a hopeful new direction. He also pointed to what he called small but welcome steps in Egypt and Saudi Arabia to allow multi-party and municipal elections.

"Millions have gained their liberty and millions more have gained the hope of liberty that will not be denied. The trumpet of freedom has been sounded, and that trumpet never calls retreat," the president said.

But, Mr. Bush's call for greater democracy and freedom came as hundreds of thousands of pro-Syrian demonstrators gathered in Beirut, chanting anti-American slogans. The rally was organized by Hezbollah, a militant Shia Muslim group founded by Iran and backed by Syria.

The rally has dwarfed other anti-Syrian protests, prompting some analysts to warn that the United States may be overestimating its ability to bring about change in Lebanon.

Richard Fairbanks is a former U.S. negotiator for Middle East peace and counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C.

"One, if it's seen as the West wants Syria out, that would not be helpful to swaying the minds of the Shia and perhaps some others in Lebanon. Second, these calls by the Europeans and Americans are not self-executing and there is not another counterforce on the ground. So as much as the majority of the people want this to happen it's not going to be so simple," he said.

Political analysts also argue that Middle East reforms have been announced in the past, only to fizzle out before fundamental change took root.

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