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Bush Reaffirms Position on Syrian Withdrawal From Lebanon


President Bush reaffirmed his belief in the importance of a free Lebanon Wednesday during talks with the Patriarch of the Maronite Church, Nasrallah Sfeir. The president used the occasion to once again urge a complete Syrian withdrawal.

He said the meeting focused on bringing freedom to Lebanon and added that the first step is putting an end to Syria's interference. "And I assured his eminence that United States policy is to work with friends and allies to insist that Syria completely leave Lebanon," he said.

Speaking to reporters at the end of his meeting with the Maronite Partriarch, Mr. Bush talked about a shared desire to see true democracy flourish. The Lebanese Christian leader agreed, reading a statement in English. "We are hopeful the Lebanese with this effort of their friends around the world will be able to build a better future in a free, independent, pluralistic and sovereign Lebanon," he said.

Earlier in the day, at a White House news conference, President Bush was asked once again if he believes there is a potential political role for Hezbollah in Lebanon. On Tuesday Mr. Bush urged Hezbollah to prove that it is not a terrorist organization by laying down its arms.

At his news conference Wednesday he said Hezbollah has long been considered a terrorist group by the United States, calling it a violent organization that has killed Americans. The president then went on to stress that his focus now is on getting the Syrians out.

"Our policy is this: We want there to be a thriving democracy in Lebanon," he said. "We believe that there will be a thriving democracy, but only if -- but only if -- Syria withdraws not only her troops completely out of Lebanon, but also her secret service organizations, intelligence organizations -- not secret service, intelligence organizations."

Mr. Bush also spoke about his desire to one day see democracy flourish in Iran. When a reporter wanted to know if he believes regime change should be a goal, the president answered this way. "I believe that the Iranian people ought to be allowed to freely discuss options, read a free press, have free votes, be able to choose amongst political parties. I believe Iran should adopt democracy," he said. "That is what I believe."

President Bush went on to urge patience as European negotiators seek a deal on Iran's nuclear ambitions. He said Tehran knows if there is no agreement, the issue will be brought up before the United Nations Security Council.

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