03/16/2005, 00.00
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Patriarch Sfeir meets Bush today

Lebanese delegation expects US to back Lebanon in claiming full sovereignty from Syria. It also seeks US support to get the Shebaa Farms area from Israel, whose occupation has given Hezbollah a pretext to remain armed.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – US President George W. Bush will receive Maronite Patriarch Nassrallah Sfeir at 1:40 pm today (GMT -5) in the White House. Sources close to the Patriarch told AsiaNews that the prelate will talk to the President about his country's current crisis as well as the relevant facts that led to it: civil war and its causes, foreign involvement, the Taef Agreement and the failed planned Syrian pullout. He will also inform Mr Bush of what his country expects from the United States, namely help to regain its independence and sovereignty and support to take its place in the concert of free nations.

The Patriarch will remind the US leader that Lebanon—described by John Paul II as the 'message country' to the world—is a place where Christians and Muslims live and work together. He will ask him to put pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Shebaa Farms area and thus remove Hezbollah's pretext to remain an armed group. The Iran-backed Shiite party led by Sheikh Hassan Nassrallah is the only political party in the country that still has its own armed militia.

From the US President, Patriarch Sfeir expects to hear the US point of view on the current Mideast situation and what future vision the US administration has for the region.

President Bush is likely to reiterate that US will to build democracy in the region and facilitate regime reforms; he is likely to reassert his country's determination to fight violence and fundamentalism that threaten world peace and democracy. He is certain to reaffirm US support for UN Resolution 1559, the only means to help Lebanon recover its liberty and sovereignty.

Patriarch Sfeir and his delegation of bishops, which includes US-based officials, will also meet Deputy Secretary Robert B. Zoellick—who is the Acting Secretary of State in the absence of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who is travelling in Asia—before meeting members of Congress.

Patriarch Sfeir's visit to the US President is not the first time a head of the Maronite Church travels to the United States. Patriarch Boulos Meouchi met John Kennedy in 1962. Patriarch Antonios Khoreiche saw President Ronald Reagan in the eighties as did Patriarch Sfeir himself in 1988. (JH)

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