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Lebanon's Leader Urges Bush To Stay Engaged In Mideast

Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri is encouraging the Bush administration to stay engaged in the Middle East, saying Secretary of State Colin Powell's trip to the region was a starting point for further peace efforts. He made the remarks following talks at the White House Wednesday with President Bush.

Prime Minister Hariri said the Powell mission must be put in perspective. "We have to look at it as a starting process," he said. "We should not look at it as a visit where there is a victory that has to be achieved."

Mr. Hariri met with Secretary Powell on Monday in Lebanon. The meeting focused on the need to stop Hezbollah guerrillas from firing more rockets into Israel from Lebanese soil.

The attacks stopped on Saturday two days before the secretary arrived in Beirut. But the Bush administration remains concerned that the Israel-Palestinian conflict could spread.

Prime Minister Hariri has said Lebanon does not want a wider war. And he said he told President Bush that both Lebanon and Syria must be included if there is to be any progress toward a larger Mideast peace deal. "We have expressed our opinion of the necessity of a comprehensive peace including Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians as well," he said.

The Lebanese leader said he also spoke with the president about the need for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestinian areas. He said their talks were "fruitful" and said they focused as well on bilateral matters, such as the possibility of U.S. economic aid for Lebanon.

White House national security spokesman Sean McCormack later told reporters that Prime Minister Hariri and President Bush agreed on the need for a peaceful resolution to the Mideast dispute, and for U.S. and Arab allies to play a constructive role.

He confirmed that Hezbollah attacks on Israel were discussed, saying the two leaders talked about the need to stop terrorist attacks across the Lebanese border. Mr. McCormack described their meeting as "warm" adding that during his stay in Washington, Mr. Hariri will discuss these issues further with administration officials.