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Bush Backs Inquiry into Hariri Assassination


President Bush says he expects a full investigation into last year's assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Pressure from the United States and France following that killing forced Syria to withdraw troops and intelligence officials from neighboring Lebanon. Mr. Bush Friday met with the former prime minister's son in the Oval Office.

President Bush welcomed Lebanese member of parliament Saad Hariri to the White House, for what he called an interesting and important discussion of their mutual desire to see Lebanon chart its own political course free from Syrian intimidation.

Mr. Bush repeated calls for a full United Nations investigation into the circumstances surrounding the assassination of the elder Hariri who was an outspoken opponent of Syrian occupation.

"It's very important for the investigation into your dad's death to go forward," said President Bush. "We expect there to be a full and firm investigation and the people who were responsible for your dad's death need to be held to account."

Investigators have reported difficulties interviewing some senior Syrian officials believed involved in the massive car bombing last February. That investigation continues with Damascus allowing some officials to be interviewed in Europe.

President Bush praised Lebanon's pro-democracy forces, saying it is U.S. priority to see the country free from foreign influence.

"It will be very important for the region for Lebanon's democracy to be able to reach its full potential," he said. "And there is no doubt in my mind that with the focused effort of the free world reminding Syria to uphold U.N. Resolution 1559, we will be able to achieve that objective."

President Bush says he supports Hariri's efforts to organize a donor conference for Lebanon. Hariri, who leads a party with the majority of seats in the Lebanese parliament, says he met with International Monetary Fund officials during this visit to Washington.

He says IMF officials agreed to send a team to Lebanon February 7 to begin planning for the donor conference.

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