Jumblatt asks Rice, Arab governments to pressure Syria to quit Lebanon | VailDaily.com

Jumblatt asks Rice, Arab governments to pressure Syria to quit Lebanon

WASHINGTON – Less than three years after losing his U.S. visa for saying he wished a top Pentagon official had been hit with a rocket, a Lebanese political leader gained an audience with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and received her assurances of support for his country.Speaking in Arabic after the meeting Monday, which came within two weeks of a similar session with Rice in Beirut, Walid Jumblatt acknowledged to reporters that his remarks about then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz had been harmful.But the men evidently have mended the strain, and Jumblatt was due to meet Tuesday with Wolfowitz, who is now head of the World Bank, about economic aid to his country.Jumblatt said Wolfowitz had credited him in an interview with being a participant in Lebanon’s “freedom revolution.”The focus of his meeting with Wolfowitz on Tuesday is expected to be on how the bank can assist the Lebanese economy.Rice did not speak to reporters after she saw Jumblatt, A State Department spokesman, Tom Casey, said Rice had assured the Druse leader of “ongoing U.S. support for the path of democracy and reform.”While Casey did not provide details of what form that support might take, he singled out Lebanon’s right to free and fair presidential elections under a U.N. Security Council resolution.Jumblatt said before seeing Rice that he wanted U.S. support to “liberate our country” from Syrian influence. He said the outcome ultimately depends on opposition forces in Syria.Rice’s two meetings with the anti-Syria leader of the Progressive Socialist Party symbolically ensures that Syria and its supporters are made aware of the U.S. determination to terminate Syrian influence in Lebanon.For Jumblatt, a sometimes quixotic politician, it’s a long leap since he lost his U.S. visa in November 2003 for publicly expressing regret that Wolfowitz, an architect of the war in Iraq, had survived a rocket attack on a hotel in Baghdad.Jumblatt, always sharp-tongued and with a history of shifting his alliances, was an ardent supporter of Syria until two years ago. A day after the Baghdad rocket attack he said he hoped it would be more effective next time “to get rid of this germ and people like him in Washington, who are wreaking havoc with the Arab land in Iraq and in Palestine.”In a news conference Monday at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center before calling on Rice, Jumblatt criticized U.S. strategy in Iraq, saying, “It was a big mistake to destroy the Iraq army.” The result, he said, is that Syria and Iran are free “to play” inside Iraq.He also spoke hopefully of the extremist Palestinian group Hamas changing its anti-Israel policy once it is in power. But Jumblatt took a low-key approach on that volatile issue and said, “I am not here to defend Hamas.”In fact, he said his mission was to generate political, economic and diplomatic pressure on Syria and Lebanon’s pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, and look into ways the U.S. might persuade Saudi Arabia and Egypt to play a role.”The Syrians are smuggling troops and weapons into Lebanon. The same people they are sending to Iraq,” he said. “If you don’t change Syrian policy, you won’t have peace.”Under U.S. and French pressure, Syria has withdrawn its troops from Lebanon. But it remains a potent force in the neighboring Arab country, and channels Iranian weapons to Hezbollah, a militant Lebanese group classified along with Hamas by the State Department as a terrorist organization.Vail, Colorado

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