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Bush steps up pressure on Syria
February 17, 2005

Bush steps up pressure on Syria
US President George W Bush at the White House
Bush says Syria is 'out of step' with the Middle East
President George Bush has increased US pressure on Syria, laying out demands he says he expects Damascus to meet.

Tension has intensified since former PM Rafik Hariri, who had called for Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon, was killed by a bomb in Beirut on Monday.

Mr Bush stopped short of blaming Syria for the attack, but demanded Damascus pull out of Lebanon and hand over any supporters of Saddam Hussein.

He also cautioned Iran, which said on Wednesday it would stand by Syria.

As Mr Bush spoke in response to reporters' questions on Thursday, an influential former Iranian president urged the creation of a more comprehensive regional alliance.

Syria and Iran, being democratic nations have full right to come together for their nations' security
Shib Sen Chowdhuri, Calcutta, India

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After meeting Syrian Prime Minister Mohammad Naji al-Otari, Hashemi Rafsanjani said strengthening relations between Iran, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and other Islamic states in the region was of great importance, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

He also declared that Tehran and Damascus could play a key role in Iraq's reconstruction.

The US administration has accused Tehran of using its nuclear programme to build weapons, allegations of which particularly concern neighbouring Israel.

In his remarks on Thursday, Mr Bush said the US would support Israel if Iran threatened its security.

But he was drawn more extensively on Syria. The US ambassador to the country was withdrawn earlier this week, indicating, Mr Bush said, that "the relationship is not moving forward".

He outlined the following demands:

* Syria should make sure its territory is not used by former Iraqi Baathists to "spread havoc and kill innocent lives", and turn over former Saddam regime supporters by sending them back to Iraq

* Syria should not use its territory to support international terrorist groups

* Syria should adhere to UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the removal of troops from Lebanon

* Syria should help free and fair elections to take place in Lebanon.

Syria-Iran front

On the question of the assassination of Mr Hariri, Mr Bush said he did not know if Syria was behind it.

Washington's twin challenges

He said he backed calls for an international investigation into the killing.

Earlier, Mr Hariri's family appealed for international help to investigate his murder. The Lebanese authorities have asked Swiss experts to help with the investigation, but insist that an international probe is unacceptable.

Iran has said it is ready to help Syria "on all grounds to confront threats".

Syria denies any involvement in the massive bomb attack that killed Mr Hariri, and has stressed that its common front with Iran is not an alliance against Washington.

Washington lists Syria as a sponsor of terrorism and has accused Damascus of contributing to instability in Lebanon.


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