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Rice: Positive Signs Coming from Syria

The Bush administration has cautiously welcomed Syria's assurances to a U.N. envoy that it would withdraw all its troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicates she sees some hopeful signs coming from Damascus. But she quickly adds the United States will settle for nothing less than the quick and the total Syrian withdrawal demanded by the U.N. Security Council.

"Obviously, there are some positive elements to this," said Condoleezza Rice. "It is positive that Syria would begin to withdraw its forces out of Lebanon, not just to the border. But we are going to continue to press for full compliance with resolution 1559."

During an appearance on the ABC television program This Week, Ms. Rice emphasized Washington is still waiting for a final report from the United Nations. But she noted that Syria has apparently agreed to pull out intelligence agents as well as troops - a key demand of the United States.

In a separate interview, White House National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley made clear that while the promises of a withdrawal are encouraging, they are not enough. He told the Fox News Sunday program the real test will be whether or not Damascus follows through on its stated intentions.

"Initial reports are encouraging," said Stephen Hadley. "At the end of the day it is going to be deeds not words that matter."

Mr. Hadley said the withdrawal must be full and complete. He did not mention a specific timetable, but said it must be done as soon as possible so that the Lebanese can hold elections free of foreign influence.

Secretary Rice stressed the Lebanese people must be given the opportunity to determine their own political future. She was asked if there is a place in that future for Hezbollah.

The Europeans see a potential political role for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Ms. Rice told ABC the United States continues to view Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and added America's focus at the moment lies elsewhere.

"We are concentrating on removing the Syrian presence, the Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs, because only then can you have free and fair elections, which in and of themselves sometimes change the political circumstance on the ground," she said.

The secretary of state and the national security advisor both emphasized one point: that all elements in Lebanese society who are willing to abide by the rule of law are welcome to take part in the political process.

A leading member of the U.S. Senate - Democrat Christopher Dodd of Connecticut - told CNN's Late Edition that the demilitarization of Hezbollah before elections is crucial.

"In the past, Syria was seen as the modifier on Hezbollah's activities inside Lebanon," said Christopher Dodd. "And in the absence of Syria being there, what happens to the demobilization of Hezbollah's military militia? And if that does not happen and Syria leaves you could have some additional problems."

Mr. Dodd said Israel is very concerned about increased attacks against its people if the Syrians pull out of Lebanon and leave an armed and angry Hezbollah behind.