U.S. President George W. Bush told a White House press conference Thursday that his patience with Syrian President Bashar Assad had run out long ago.
"Syria needs to stay out of Lebanon," Bush said when asked whether he would be willing to talk to Assad about stabilizing Lebanon, which is caught up in a political crisis.
The Bush administration has tried to isolate Damascus diplomatically, though Syria sent representatives to the Annapolis peace conference hosted by the U.S. last month.
"My patience ran out on President Assad a long time ago," Bush said. "The reason why is because he houses Hamas, he facilitates Hezbollah, suiciders go from his country into Iraq and he destabilizes Lebanon," Bush said.
Syria has denied U.S. allegations that it is interfering in neighboring Lebanon and trying to undermine its Western-backed government. Damascus withdrew its forces from Lebanon in 2005 after a 29-year military presence.
Syria's foreign minister insisted earlier on Thursday that Damascus is trying to help resolve Lebanon's presidential crisis. Lebanon's presidency has been vacant since November 23 when the term of pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud ended. France has been leading efforts to mediate a settlement between the Western-backed governing coalition and the opposition, led by groups with close ties to Damascus.
During his speech at the conference, Bush also said he was dissatisfied with political progress in Iraq but insisted the Iraqi government was making some advances.
"There is a functioning government," Bush claimed. "Are we satisfied with the progress in Baghdad? No." But he said it was wrong to say nothing was happening and asserted that Washington would keep up pressure for efforts at national reconciliation in Iraq.
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