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Rice Meets Members of Lebanon's New Government


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paid an unexpected visit to Beirut Friday, delivering a message of support to the new Lebanese government. It was the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state to Lebanon since Syria ended its 29-year military presence in the country in April.

The surprise visit was aimed at sending a message of support to the new Lebanese government, which took office just a few days ago.

Neighboring Syria, which completed its withdrawal from Lebanon in April, has been engaged in a trade war with the recently elected Lebanese government, closing its border to most Lebanese trucks carrying merchandise to other Arab countries.

Secretary Rice reiterated U.S. support for Lebanon and its political process during her brief visit, which began with a courtesy call on Saad Hariri, son of slain former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, and a visit to his tomb in Beirut's city center. The assassination of Rafik Hariri sparked mass anti-Syrian protests. His son won a seat in parliament in the recent elections, heading an anti-Syrian opposition bloc.

Accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, Secretary Rice then met with Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud.

At a joint news conference with the new prime minister, Fouad Sinioura, Ms. Rice said the Washington supports a Lebanon free of terrorism, united, and where all Lebanese participate in the political process.

Alluding to Syria, she also stressed "positive cooperation between neighbors," as well as fulfillment of U.N. Resolution 1559, which called on Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, as well as for the disarming of the Shi'ite fundamentalist Hezbollah group's armed militia.

The secretary of state said the United States, which considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, has not changed its policy toward the group.

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