03/17/2005, 00.00
LEBANON – UNITED STATES
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Bush and Sfeir for a free and democratic Lebanon

In their White House talks the two leaders reiterate the need for Syrian withdrawal. The Patriarch hopes international financial institutions will help Lebanon, expects international observers in the upcoming elections.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – At the end of his meeting with Maronite Patriarch Nassrallah Sfeir, who came bearing the "hope for independence, sovereignty and freedom of all Lebanese, President George W. Bush said that the United States wants a free and democratic Lebanon and for this reason insists on the total withdrawal of the Syrian army and security services so that Lebanese can hold elections.

"I assured His Eminence," the President said, "that United States policy is to work with friends and allies to insist that Syria completely leave Lebanon, Syria take all her troops out of Lebanon, Syria take her intelligence services out of Lebanon, so that the election process will be free and fair".

Patriarch Sfeir presented a memorandum to the President with the historical context of Lebanon's crisis, from the "war fought by others on Lebanese soil" to the Taef Agreement, demanding that Lebanon be allowed to be a member of the concert of nations.

At the end of the meeting, the Patriarch said "we discussed the Lebanese issue in general without going into details and we did not discuss specific parties" such as Hezbollah. He did however express his confidence that the Syrian pullout will take place.

The White House meeting also touched upon international financial aid to Lebanon, but the Patriarch refused to elaborate on the issue saying that "when we return to Lebanon, we will speak of this issue".

Before meeting President Bush Patriarch Sfeir met with the Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick.

At the end of that meeting in response to a reporter's question about what requests he had made, the Patriarch said he "was not in the habit of passing on requests of only one group of Lebanese but does so for all Lebanese. And what Lebanese want is quite clear to all".

The Patriarch also stated that it would a "good thing" to have an international investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri as well international observers to supervise the upcoming elections.

During his visit to the United States, Patriarch Sfeir went to see the US Bishops' Conference.

He explained to US Catholic bishops the situation Eastern Christians face and the difficulties in being accepted as an integral part of the region.

Patriarch Sfeir also spoke about the fundamental role Eastern Christians play as a bridge between, East and West, Islam and Christianity, tradition and modernity. (JH)

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