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Jumblatt Urges US Help in Ending Syrian Influence In Lebanon

Lebanese political figure Walid Jumblatt met Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Monday to urge more U.S. diplomatic pressure to end Syrian influence in Lebanon. The Lebanese Druze leader, once a harsh critic of the United States, is meeting key Bush administration officials.

The Lebanese Druze leader says he is grateful for U.S. diplomacy that helped produce U.N. Security Council resolution 15-59 and the resulting Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon a year ago.

But he is urging more American diplomatic pressure to end what he says is continued heavy Syrian political influence in Lebanon so what he terms the country's Cedar Revolution can yield true independence.

Appearing Monday at Washington's Brookings Institution, Jumblatt said the Bush administration should push Arab allies, notably Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to be more forceful in their dealings with Damascus.

He said the United States could also do more to isolate Syria economically and politically, while strengthening the Beirut government:

"You've been able, as Americans here, the American policy, to get the Syrians out, through [U.N. Resolution] 15-59," said Walid Jumblatt. "Now you have to implement. You have to try to do more. Sanctions, diplomatic sanctions, economic sanctions. I'm not asking for American or French troops to come to Lebanon. No. It would be havoc. But build up the central state, help the Lebanese army, help the economy. All these elements could help."

Jumblatt, who heads the mainly Druze Progressive Socialist Party in the Lebanese parliament, interrupted his role in an unprecedented national political dialogue in Beirut to make his trip to Washington.

The dialogue, organized by the speaker of parliament and Shi'ite leader Nabih Berri, is aimed at ending a political deadlock over the further implementation of Resolution 15-59, which calls for free and fair presidential elections in Lebanon and the disarming of remaining militias, notably the pro-Iranian Hezbollah and radical Palestinian factions.

Jumblatt and a number of other Lebanese political figures are seeking the ouster of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, whose term in office was extended until 2007 in a Syrian-engineered parliamentary maneuver two years ago.

The Druze leader told his Brookings audience the election of a president not under the influence of Damascus is key to Lebanon's political future:

"We have to choose a Lebanese president," he said. "We have to elect a Lebanese president, who will be able to negotiate firmly with the Syrians about the fact that the Syrian government should recognize the fact of Lebanese independence, Lebanese sovereignty, Lebanese democracy, and a president that will not be a surrogate, a puppet of the Syrian regime, like Lahoud is."

Secretary Rice's half-hour meeting with Jumblatt was their second in two weeks, with the Secretary having also met him on a visit to Beirut last month.

A State Department spokesman said the secretary assured the Druze leader of ongoing U.S. support for reform and democracy in Lebanon, and underscored the importance of Syrian compliance with Resolution 15-59, including its terms with regard to the Lebanese presidency.

The Secretary of State pointedly did not meet Mr. Lahoud during her February 23 Beirut visit, and said Lebanon should have a president who looks to the future.

The spokesman here also said Rice discussed with Jumblatt additional ways the United States, and the international community more broadly, can support the government of Lebanon, but gave no details.