Bush to Syria: Stay Out of Lebanese Elections

President Bush says Syria should stay out of presidential elections in neighboring Lebanon. VOA White House correspondent Scott Stearns reports, Mr. Bush met at the White House with the leader of the anti-Syrian majority in Lebanon's parliament, Saad Hariri.

President Bush told Lebanese majority leader Hariri that he expects Syria to stay out of the Lebanese parliament's search for a new president.

"I am deeply concerned about foreign interference in your elections," he said. "The message has been sent to nations such as Syria that they should not interfere in the election of the president."

The Lebanese parliament last week failed to elect a new president because of a boycott by the Syrian-backed opposition, led by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which receives funding from both Syria and Iran.

More than a dozen candidates are vying to succeed President Emile Lahoud, who steps down late next month.

In an Oval Office meeting, President Bush told the Lebanese politician that America is more than just an admirer of Lebanese democracy and wants to help as much as it can.

Hariri said he appreciates the president's support and is confident that the democratically-elected majority will act independent of Syrian interference.

"We in Lebanon have a very important constitutional presidential election that we do not want any foreign interference in this presidential election," he said. "We have had members of our parliament being killed. I ask, Mr. President, that this action is taken by terrorists that want to finish our democracy."

President Bush said he admires Hariri's courage as he works for peace, democracy, and freedom in Lebanon. Mr. Bush again called for faster action from a United Nations tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Hariri's father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

"The international community has demanded accountability. That tribunal has taken too long to get started," he said. "The international community must work more quickly to stand up this tribunal so people will be held to account."

The president said the tribunal will send a clear message that justice will be delivered.

Syria denies any involvement in that killing, which fueled protests that ultimately forced Damascus to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.

President Bush said he is impressed with how Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora is dealing with Hezbollah militants, and said the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Admiral William Fallon, will meet with Lebanese officials to see what more the United States can do to help Lebanon's military.

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