United States President George W. Bush on Wednesday pointedly ordered Syria out of Lebanon, saying the free world is in agreement that Damascus' authority over the political affairs of its neighbor must end now.
He applauded the strong message sent to Syria when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier held a joint news conference in London on Tuesday.
"Both of them stood up and said loud and clear to Syria, 'You get your troops and your secret services out of Lebanon so that good democracy has a chance to flourish," Bush said at a event on his job training programs at a community college in nearby Maryland.
Also Wednesday, Lebanon's opposition demanded the full withdrawal of Syrian military and intelligence services and the resignation of Lebanese Syrian-backed security chiefs.
The opposition, in a statement released after a meeting, said pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud must accept these demands before they would join any discussions on the formation of a new government.
Bush said the world "is speaking with one voice when it comes to making sure that democracy has a chance to flourish in Lebanon."
The president's words, following those from Rice and others in the Bush administration this week, amount to the strongest pressure to date on Syria from Washington.
Rice said Tuesday from London, where she was attending an international conference on Palestinian security and government reform, that Syria is "out of step" with growing desire for democracy in the Middle East.
The Bush administration also Tuesday blamed terrorists based in Syria for last week's suicide attack in Tel Aviv that killed five people.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Syria was home base for the terrorist attack in Israel, which rocked the latest efforts for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
"We do have firm evidence that the bombing in Tel Aviv was not only authorized by Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders in Damascus, but [also] that Islamic Jihad leaders in Damascus participated in the planning," the spokesman said.
Bush made a similar point during a White House meeting Tuesday with congressional leaders, participants said, and so did Rice while in London.
All key Lebanese political decisions are assumed to have a stamp of approval from the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Huge street demonstrations and Monday's resignation of the pro-Syrian Lebanese government marked the most serious challenge to Syrian authority in Lebanon since the end of the civil war that killed 150,000 and crushed the Lebanese economy in the 1970s and 1980s.
The events also were an opening for the Bush administration to press its wider goal of democracy across the Middle East and to throw a spotlight on what the United States contends is long-standing Syrian support for terrorists who are trying to undermine progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Rice said the Lebanese must be allowed to choose their own political future in elections this spring. That choice must be independent of "contaminating influences," she said, underscoring a joint U.S.-French statement on Tuesday and a United Nations resolution last fall.
"I think it's one of the strongest statements in a long time about what needs to happen in Lebanon," Rice said.
At a news conference with Barnier, Rice said their two countries would support the scheduled election in Lebanon, perhaps by sending observers and monitors.
She also suggested international peacekeepers might be needed eventually and could help secure democracy for the Lebanese if Syria were to withdraw.
She gave no details, and later said it was too soon to talk about the specifics of security in Lebanon after a hypothetical Syrian exit.
Assad indicated in an interview with Time magazine that he would withdraw Syria's 15,000 troops from Lebanon "maybe in the next few months." Later, however, a Syrian official speaking on condition of anonymity in Damascus questioned whether it could occur within months.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield, who just returned from Lebanon, said Wednesday the United States does not know from conflicting public statements by Syrian officials whether Syria will withdraw from Lebanon.
"What is needed now is not rhetoric, whether private or public. What is needed is actions on the ground," Satterfield told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Satterfield said "neither this government nor the people of Lebanon will believe anything other than what we see with our eyes."