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Rice Expresses US Support for Lebanon


Secretary of State Rice Condoleezza Rice made an unexpected stop in Beirut, Thursday, to meet with the country's top leaders, amid continuing turbulence and uncertainty, following last year's Syrian pullout.

Lebanese police and army troops closed key Beirut thoroughfares, amid ramped up security, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met briefly with a number of top Lebanese political and religious figures.

Lebanese leaders appeared both excited and pleased by secretary Rice's surprise visit, as anti-Syrian forces attempt to consolidate the country's independence, following last year's revolution.

Ms. Rice told journalists that the main objective of her visit was express to solidarity with the Lebanese government and its people as they try to recover their sovereignty after last year's pull-out of Syrian troops.

"It is also a time to reiterate and to affirm the firm support of the United States of America for the Lebanese people as they work to have a fully sovereign and democratic Lebanon that can be a prosperous Lebanon for all of Lebanon's people without regard to background, ethnicity or religion," Rice said.

Secretary Rice also underscored America's hope that Lebanon's neighbors, especially Syria, would not interfere in its internal politics:

"We continue to look forward to the day when Lebanon is truly free, also of interference and intimidation from its neighbor and also a Lebanon that is prosperous and at peace among its communities and at peace with its neighbors," Ms. Rice said.

The secretary of state made a key visit to Lebanon's influential Maronite Christian Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, north of Beirut, before returning to the capital to meet Prime Minister Fouad Sinoura and opposition leaders Sa'ad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt.

Secretary Rice refused to take a position in the current battle to oust Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, but did say that she thought the Lebanese people wanted to "look to the future, and not the past."

She also warned Syria that it must "cooperate fully" with the United Nations committee probing last year's bombing which killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The killing of Hariri, last year was followed by a wave of explosions and assassinations. Opponents of Syria accuse the country of responsibility in the ongoing campaign to destabilize the country.

Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon after occupying the country for nearly three decades. But, it is still accused by many of interfering in Lebanese politics.

Ms. Rice has already visited Egypt and Saudi Arabia as part of her tour of the Middle East.