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WhiteHouse: Lebanon Govt Collapse Gives Oppunities

U.S. White House Press Briefing by Scott McClellan

With regards to Lebanon and the developments there today, we are closely watching developments with great interest. The resignation of the Karami government represents an opportunity for the Lebanese people to have a new government that is truly representative of their country's diversity. The new government will have the responsibility of implementing free and fair elections that the Lebanese people have clearly demonstrated they desire. We believe the process of a new government should proceed in accordance with the Lebanese constitution and should be free of all foreign interference. It is time for Syria to fully comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559. That means Syrian military forces and intelligence personnel need to leave the country. That will help ensure the elections are free and fair.

And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions.

Q Scott, when you take all of this together -- the resignation of the government today, Syria's apparent capture and handover of Saddam Hussein's half-brother, Syria's declaration last week that it was going to pull troops back closer to its border -- do you see this as being some small steps on the part of Syria to try to show its goodwill toward the United States and Europe, in light of some of the pretty strong comments that you've been making in the past few weeks?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, on the capture of Saddam Hussein's half-brother, I'm going to let the coalition forces and the Iraqi authorities speak to that. They have made some public comments about it; they have not gotten into any of the specifics relating to that at this point. And I don't want to get in front of what they are saying from the ground there in Iraq. There are reasons for that oftentimes, so I want to state that first.

In terms of our concerns with Syria, I just expressed some of our continuing concerns regarding Syria, particularly when it comes to Lebanon, and they need to comply with their international obligations, the obligation of the United Nations Security Council that calls on all those in Lebanon, all those foreign entities in Lebanon, to leave Lebanon.

Q Again, regardless of who's speaking to what, a couple of these moves that Syria has made in the past few days, do you see this as being -- as sort of reaching out to the United States, or do you think they're just trying to get some of the heat off?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has spoken about the concerns he has when it comes to Syria. He laid those out very clearly. There are several concerns we have with regards to Syria. We have concerns about their continuing support for terrorism, namely Hezbollah. We have concern about Syria allowing terrorist organizations to operate within their territory. We have concerns about regime elements operating from Syrian territory. And we've expressed those concerns. We have concerns about Syria's interference in Lebanon's internal affairs, and we will see by their actions if they're committed to changing their behavior.

Go ahead, Terry.

Q Scott, these are remarkable scenes we're witnessing in Beirut. Is this a domino falling? Does this show the President's strategy is vindicated and confirmed and right?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has often spoken about how all people desire to live in freedom. I think you're seeing today in Lebanon that the Lebanese people are clearly demonstrating their desire to have a free and independent future, free from outside interference. And we continue to see the Lebanese people standing up and speaking out for their desire to live in freedom, and that's why we made the comments -- that's why I made the comments I did at the beginning of the briefing.

Q Can I follow up?

Q Is this a vindication of the Iraq strategy that the President set out? Is this a domino falling in the Middle East?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that you're seeing across the world -- most notably in the Middle East -- that democracy and freedom are on the march. The Iraqi people demonstrated their desire to live in freedom and peace when they went to the polls in overwhelming numbers and showed their courage and determination to defy those who want to return to the past, the terrorists.

And I think you're seeing in other parts of the Middle East that there is a commitment to moving forward on democratic reforms. You're seeing that with regards to the Palestinian territories. The Palestinian people want a future that is built on a free and democratic and viable state. And you have a leadership now that is committed to helping them realize that vision that the President outlined.

Q Are you seeing that in Egypt, with President Mubarak's statement?

MR. McCLELLAN: We welcome the commitment by President Mubarak that he made to move forward on elections that would allow for more than one candidate to participate in those elections. We will see, through the implementation of the reforms that were announced, the commitment to moving forward on that.

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