Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Monday renewed the U.S. call on Syria to end political interference in Lebanon and halt the traffic of insurgents across its border into Iraq. The appeal came at an international gathering at the United Nations in support of the newly elected government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
The meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly included Mr. Siniora, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Secretary Rice and senior officials of six other countries and the European Union.
In addition to pledges of political support for the independence-minded Lebanese government that took office in July, participants announced that an international fund-raising conference for Lebanon will be held before the end of the year in Beirut.
At a joint news conference, Mr. Annan said the international community is steadfast in its determination to insure that outside actors, an implicit reference to Syria, end all interference in the domestic affairs of Lebanon.
His appeal was seconded by Secretary Rice, who called on Syria to cooperate with the U.N.-led investigation of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and to more broadly end activities the United States contends are harming Middle East peace efforts.
"Syria needs to get on the right side of events that are going on in the Middle East. That means to cut off the routes that insurgents are using to use Syrian territory to penetrate into Iraq and to kill innocent Iraqis," said Secretary Rice. "That means to close off support for Palestinian rejectionists who are the single biggest threat to progress in the Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement, and to again to make certain that nothing is being done to interfere in the affairs of Lebanon. "
The U.N. investigation of the February car-bomb killing of Mr. Hariri has led to the arrest and indictment of four senior Lebanese security officers, including a close aide to Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, and has increased suspicions of Syrian involvement in the assassination.
Syria denies any role in the murder and in recent days has promised to cooperate with the probe, led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis. In his news conference remarks, Prime Minister Siniora said the Lebanese are determined to learn the truth in the Hariri case.
"The Lebanese, all the Lebanese, are really seeking the truth, no matter how long it will take and no matter which personalities it is going to touch, and to implicate," said Prime Minister Siniora. "We want the truth so everybody will learn a lesson not to commit such crimes in the future. It is not only penalizing those who really committed this crime but to give it a lesson so that it's is not committed once more."
Amid the focus here on Lebanon, Syrian President Bashar Assad scrapped plans to attend the U.N.'s world summit last week, and Syria did not send a senior representative to the General Assembly opening.
Lebanese President Lahoud did not attend the meeting on Lebanon, and as it was getting under way he was addressing the General Assembly with a hardline message blaming Israel for Middle East tensions, and suggesting that its policies have spawned regional terrorism.
"The daily Israeli violations of Lebanon's territorial integrity and its aggressions against the people of south Lebanon have rendered this important part of my country as yet another point of tension in the Middle East," said President Lahoud. "Israel's violation of the Blue Line, and its continuing occupation of parts of my country, along with the imprisonment of scores of our citizens without any recourse to due process are in clear violation of international law."
President Lahoud condemned the Hariri assassination as a heinous act and said he looked forward to a timely and prompt disclosure of the findings of the Mehlis inquiry commission. He said the killing was only one part of what he termed the exorbitant price Lebanon has paid in recent years in wars, occupations and assassinations.