Bush and Chirac urge Syria out of Lebanon

22nd February 2005, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, Feb 21 (AFP) - US President George W. Bush and his old adversary French President Jacques Chirac sought late Monday to set aside differences over Iraq and united in calling for a Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon.

BRUSSELS, Feb 21 (AFP) - US President George W. Bush and his old adversary French President Jacques Chirac sought late Monday to set aside differences over Iraq and united in calling for a Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon.

The two men met for a little over two hours at the US ambassador's residence in Brussels for talks followed by dinner, accompanied only by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, her French counterpart Michel Barnier and a handful of close advisors.

The two leaders were smiling as they met in Brussels, but were clearly not that relaxed.

"Every time I meet with Jacques, he's got good advice," Bush said. "We've got a lot of issues to talk about: Middle Eastern peace, Lebanon, Iran, helping to feed the hungry."

Chirac replied that: "President Bush and I have always shared very ... very warm relations."

Not once before the gathered journalists did Bush mention the war in Iraq, which soured ties two years ago and led to a deep transatlantic split.

Chirac however acknowledged the tensions, saying "Of course, we can have our differences, our divergence of opinion. Recently, this was the case. We didn't share the same view over Iraq.

"But this in no way affects or in no way undermines the bedrock of our relations, namely, our common values and our common vision."

Yet when Bush was asked if he would invite the French leader to the United States and to his Texas ranch, the US president dodged the question saying: "I'm looking for a good cowboy."

The two leaders united however around Lebanon, issuing a tough joint statement condemning the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri on February 14 and calling on all Syrian troops to be withdrawn from Lebanon.

"We support the UN investigation into this terrorist act and urge the full cooperation of all parties in order to identify those responsible for this act," said the joint statement.

"We urge full and immediate implementation of UNSCR 1559 in all its aspects," it added, referring to the UN Security Council resolution adopted in September which calls for the immediate retreat of all foreign forces in Lebanon.

However, the joint statement also masked further differences between the two countries over Lebanon.

Washington sees it as an occasion to up the pressure on Damascus, which it has accused of supporting terrorism in the region, while Paris is putting the emphasis on elections due in April.

Relations between the two presidents have never been easy, but French officials have welcomed what they see as a change in tone, and a desire on the part of the US to treat Europe as a serious partner.

Other issues due to be tackled in Monday's talks were Iran's nuclear programme, which Washington has alleged is aimed at building an atomic bomb.

France also wants to stop Iran gaining nuclear arms, but has led efforts with Germany and Britain to cajole Tehran back into compliance with international nuclear accords by offering lucrative trade deals.

Washington has so far refused to rule out the military option.

Chirac may however seek to win Bush's support for Iran's entry into the World Trade Organisation - one of the key planks of the accords.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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