WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice condemned Monday's slaying of a Lebanese journalist who was critical of Syrian involvement in his country as a "vicious act of terror." She conferred with France's foreign minister on how to bring new pressure on Damascus.
It was not immediately clear whether the United States and France, its partner in trying to loosen Syria's grip on its weaker Arab neighbor, were planning moves in the U.N. Security Council, which already has demanded that Syria end its presence in Lebanon.
Journalist and lawmaker Gibran Tueni, a relentless critic of Syria who spent months in France fearing assassination, was killed in a car bombing Monday, only a day after returning to his homeland.
"I am outraged by the assassination," Rice said, offering her condolences to his family. She called Tueni a Lebanese patriot and a voice of freedom.
"That voice will not be silenced," Rice said in a statement. "America will remain steadfast in its support of the Lebanese people."
At the White House, Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the assassination is an example of Syrian interference in Lebanon.
"This savage attack is clearly intended to intimidate those in Lebanon who would courageously and openly speak their minds," McClellan said, adding that it was too early to know who was responsible for the deadly bombing.
"The attack is a reminder that all of us in the international community must continue to insist on enforcing the (U.N.) Security Council resolutions aimed at ending Syria's interference in Lebanon once and for all," he said.
Syria's continuing interference in Lebanon must end completely, Rice said. She said the United States will work with its partners on the Security Council and in the region to ensure that two Security Council resolutions designed to terminate that interference are fully implemented.
Rice spoke by telephone with French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy about the assassination, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said, adding, "We will continue to work closely for those goals" of Lebanese sovereignty and independence.
They renewed their support for the two U.N. resolutions, 1595 and 1636, designed to pressure Syria to remove all its troops and intelligence operations from Lebanon and for an ongoing U.N. investigation into Tueni's slaying, he said.
"There continues to be a Syrian intelligence presence in Lebanon although Syrian troops have left," Ereli said. "There remains a residual presence in Lebanon that does not contribute to Lebanese stability, that is noxious and that must end."
As far as any further action by the Security Council, Ereli said, "That will depend on what the members of the Security Council think is appropriate."
President Bush received an update Monday on the assassination of Tueni, who died just a day after returning from France. McClellan extended condolences to victims of the bombing. Tueni was one of three people killed when a car bomb exploded as his motorcade drove through Mkalles, an industrial suburb of Beirut. Another 30 people were wounded in the bombing, which started a fire that destroyed at least 10 vehicles.