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Bush assures Sfeir that U.S. will insist on full Syrian withdrawal

Patriarch thanks American president for his 'sincere interest'

By Mayssam Zaaroura

Daily Star staff

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Posted on March 22, 2005 at 3:50 pm

(Picture: Patriarch-Bush march 16-05)


BEIRUT: Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Butros Sfeir held talks with George W. Bush in Washington last night as the U.S. president reiterated his demand for free elections in Lebanon this spring. Following his meeting with Sfeir Bush said: "I assured his eminence that United States policy will work with friends and allies to insist that Syria completely leave Lebanon so the election process will be free and fair."

Sfeir, who as the head of the 900,000-member Maronite Catholic Church has been a longtime critic of Syria's control in Lebanon, added: "We want an independent Lebanon and a full Syrian withdrawal according to UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and the Taif Accord, as they do not differ. A total withdrawal will be completed. And if it isn't then I am sure those who have been monitoring the issue will continue to do so."

Sfeir thanked Bush for what he called his "sincere interest" in a free and peaceful Lebanon.

Bush insisted Syria must withdraw all its troops from Lebanon, and its intelligence services, which he said "are embedded in all the Lebanese government's functions."

He said: "I firmly believe in the examples of Iraq and Afghanistan. I believe there will be a Palestinian state. I believe we'll be able to convince Syria to fully withdraw from Lebanon

or else she'll be isolated. I believe those examples will serve as examples for others over time are examples of democracy."

Sfeir's high profile visit to Washington had been seen by many as an attempt to sway U.S. opinion regarding Lebanese resistance group Hizbullah


But Sfeir, who supports

integrating Hizbullah into Lebanon's political mainstream, insisted the issue of Hizbullah was not raised during his discussions with Bush.

Sfeir said: "We discussed the Lebanese issue in general without going into details and we did not discuss specific parties."

Bush and Sfeir's meeting also touched on U.S. economic and political help for Lebanon. but the Patriarch refused to elaborate on the issue. He said: "When we return to Lebanon, we will speak of this issue."

As to whether Sfeir had been given a message from Bush to the Lebanese people, the prelate said: "The U.S. president's message is very clear and he says it everyday."

From Brussels, the European Union added its voice to the chorus of a free Lebanon with no Syrian interference and democratic elections.

EU foreign ministers voiced hope for the rapid formation of a new Lebanese government, and renewed an appeal for Syria to withdraw its troops and security agents from the country.

During Sfeir's visit the Lebanese diaspora held a welcoming dinner for him. As he arrived at the function Sfeir was welcomed with the chants that every Lebanese citizen has been hearing for the past month: "Freedom, sovereignty, independence, Syria out!"

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz also attended the dinner, after which he said: "I can see the enthusiasm and excitement here and it reminds me of the bravery of the Lebanese at home."