President George W. Bush: a free Lebanon remains a U.S. priority

President George W. Bush told the son of an assassinated Lebanese prime minister Friday that allowing Lebanon to be "free of foreign influence, free of Syrian intimidation, free to chart its own course" remains a priority for the United States. "It will be very important for the reigon for Lebanon's democracy to be able to reach its full potential," Bush said after meeting in the Oval Office with Saad Hariri, the head of the majority bloc in Lebanon's parliament. "There's no doubt in my mind, with the focused effort of the free world ... we will be able to achieve the objective."

The assassination of Hariri's father, Rafik Hariri, in Beirut a year ago set in motion a United Nations campaign to stifle neighoring Syria's long domination of Lebanon. Under U.N. pressure, Syria withdrew its troops but its influence has not been entirely erased. Hariri's father, who strongly opposed Syria's occupation of his country, was killed in February with 20 other people in a bomb attack as he was driven through the Lebanese capital. The U.N. investigation into the killing and whether Syria played a role continues.

"We expect there to be a full and firm investigation," Bush said. "The people who are responsible for your dad's death need to be held to account." Bush, who did not take questions, said he and Hariri discussed putting together a global donor's conference to raise funds to help Lebanon.

Hariri did not speak while alongside Bush. Outside the White House, Hariri told reporters the president had expressed support for a donor conference, but that no date has been set, reported AP.


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