U.S., France offer to help Lebanon

May 2, 2005 at 7:00 PM

WASHINGTON, May 2 (UPI) -- France and the United States Monday offered to help Lebanon defend its sovereignty.

"Lebanon is a sovereign, independent state that aspires to freedom and democracy," said a joint statement issued in Washington. "The United States and France ... (have) pledged ... to stand with Lebanon in fulfilling these aspirations."

The statement followed a Monday meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier in Washington.

In the statement, the United States and France assure Lebanon they support "the extension of the sole and exclusive control of the government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory, and stand ready to assist in this."

The two countries noted that Syria was withdrawing troops from Lebanon and a U.N. team was now there to verify the completion of the withdrawal.

"The end of any residual Syrian presence or continued interference in Lebanon is necessary to establish a balanced and equitable relationship between the two countries," the statement added.

France and the United States also demanded immediate formation of an international commission to investigate the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

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