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Rice says Syrian talks 'positive'


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Syria and Lebanon announce the pullback of Syrian troops.

Lebanese troops circle Syrian intelligence headquarters.

The complex relationship between Lebanon and Syria.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday she saw "positive elements" coming out of a meeting between a U.N. envoy and the president of Syria over the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon.

Terje Roed-Larsen told CNN Saturday that President Bashar Assad had given him a timetable for the withdrawal of troops and intelligence apparatus.

"We've not had an opportunity to talk with Mr. Larsen ... I do think there are some positive elements here," Rice told reporters in Washington. "The fact that this first phase would take Syrian forces out of Lebanon, not just to the border, is important."

"The key is that Syrian influence and interference need to be removed from Lebanon so that the Lebanese can engage in a Lebanese political process," she said. "The international community is going to stay focused on complete and total ... compliance with Resolution 1559."

Roed-Larsen and Assad met in Aleppo, Syria, on Saturday.

"I think that the understanding we reached in Aleppo today, as I said, is historic," Roed-Larsen told CNN's Brent Sadler. "It means that Syria is leaving Lebanon, and this, I think, is now a reality, we have specific timelines.

"It is just a couple of weeks down the line, and I will say that based on my conversations today, this is now an irreversible fact."

Rice downplayed the importance of dealing with Hezbollah -- an official Lebanese political party but considered a terrorist group by the United States and ordered disbanded and disarmed under Resolution 1559.

"We have not changed our view of Hezbollah," she said. "We are concentrating on first things first. If you get the Syrian presence out, then you have new conditions."

"The international community now can concentrate on Lebanese people having free and fair elections," she said. "Elections sometimes change the balance of power dramatically."

The Syrian troop occupation in Lebanon stirred mass outrage after the assassination last month of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which many Lebanese blame on Syria.

The assassination sparked large demonstrations against Syria and Lebanon's pro-Syrian government, which in turn sparked Prime Minister Omar Karami to resign.

But a pro-Syria demonstration, organized by Hezbollah, that dwarfed the anti-Syria rallies led parliament to renominate Karami, and President Emile Lahoud responded by naming him to his old post.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, however, told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" Sunday that the United States believe "all elements in Lebanon have an opportunity through the elections to participate in the process that will result in a democratically elected government."

"If you look at the footage of those demonstrations, what you saw overwhelmingly were Lebanese flags, and the challenge is going to be, I think, what Hezbollah does in the days forward," he said. "Obviously, we consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization. We continue to regard them in that way.

"But there is an opportunity now for all forces in Lebanon who agree to a democratic future for Lebanon under the rule of law, to participate in these elections. "

Roed-Larsen didn't give many specifics about the withdrawal, but said the meeting was "long and good," "constructive" and "bodes well for the future."

"All military personnel, Syrian military personnel in Lebanon will be by the border at the end of this month," he said. "And all intelligence personnel will also be at the border, and a fairly significant number will also cross the border into Syria before the end of this month and Mr. Assad told me that, we also got a specific timeline for the full and complete withdrawal of both the intelligence apparatus and all uniformed officers and soldiers in his apparatus here in Lebanon."

The crisis over Syria isn't over.

Roed-Larsen said the international community and the key players "need to see deeds" and now there are simply hopeful "words."

"Within the next two weeks, based on the commitments I got, there will be a new atmosphere both in the region and in the international community. But I'd liked to emphasize that all of the provisions of 1559 have to be implemented."

-- CNN Beirut Bureau Chief Brent Sadler contributed to this report


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