The United States is harshly condemning Monday's assassination of Lebanese lawmaker and journalist Gibran Tueni. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the bomb attack a vicious act of terrorism, while also demanding a complete end to what she said is continuing Syrian interference in Lebanon.
First U.S. reaction came from Secretary of State Rice, who in a written statement said she was outraged by the car bomb assassination of Mr. Tueni, which she termed a vicious act of terror against a Lebanese patriot and a voice of freedom.
In the statement, read to reporters by State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli, Ms. Rice said the voice of Mr. Tueni will not be silenced and those behind the killing will not go unpunished.
"America will remain steadfast in its support of the Lebanese people," said Mr. Ereli. "The forces behind this latest attack, and a series of brutal crimes against Lebanese journalists and political leaders in the past months, must be held to account for their crimes. Together, we in the international community will confront and defeat those who seek to terrorize and subjugate a proud, independent Lebanon."
The Rice statement said Syrian interference in Lebanon continues and must end completely. It also said the United States will work in the U.N. Security Council to see that resolutions calling on Syria to end its presence in Lebanon, and to cooperate with the investigation of the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, are fully implemented.
Under questioning, spokesman Ereli said Secretary Rice was not directly accusing Syria of being behind the Tueni assassination.
But he said her mention of ongoing Syrian interference in Lebanon is a statement of fact, and said Syria's residual presence in the country is noxious and does not contribute to Lebanese security.
The United States maintains that while Syria ended its nearly 30-year troop presence in Lebanon last April, it did not fully withdraw its intelligence apparatus, which continues to wield considerable influence.
President Bush also condemned the murder of Mr. Tueni in a written statement, calling it yet another act of violence aimed at subjugating Lebanon to Syrian domination, and silencing the Lebanese press.
The president said Mr. Tueni knew that his stand against Syrian interference carried great risk, but that despite the danger he had returned to Lebanon from France Sunday to continue efforts to promote freedom and democracy.
Mr. Tueni was general manager of the Lebanese newspaper an-Nahar in addition to being a member of parliament. He is the fourth prominent anti-Syrian figure in Lebanon killed in a string of bombings that began with the huge blast in Beirut February 14 that killed Mr. Hariri and 20 other people.
Syria has denied involvement in the killings. A statement by the Syrian embassy in Washington Monday said the attack on Mr. Tueni was part of a broader plan to implicate the Damascus government and cause maximum damage to its reputation at a crucial time.
The bombing came on the eve of a Security Council briefing by the U.N. investigator in the Hariri assassination, Detlev Mehlis, who submitted a report on his probe to Secretary-General Kofi Annan Monday.
Ms. Rice discussed the Tueni assassination by telephone Monday with French Foreign Minister Philippe Doutse-Blazy, whose government has worked closely with the United States on ending Syrian influence in Lebanon.
Spokesman Ereli said they discussed the importance of accountability for the crime, and continued support for the Mehlis investigation.