By ANNE GEARAN, AP Diplomatic Writer LONDON – The United States called for an immediate end to Syrian military and political dominion over neighboring Lebanon on Tuesday, applying its strongest pressure to date.  “The Syrians are out of step with where the region is going and out of step with the aspirations of the people of the Middle East,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. She blamed terrorists operating in Syria for last week’s suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Rice said there was gathering international resolve that Syria must pull out of Lebanon and allow the Lebanese to choose their own political future. 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.

She hinted that international peacekeepers could help secure democracy for the Lebanese if the Syrians withdraw their thousands of troops and security forces.

Huge street demonstrations and Monday’s resignation of the pro-Syrian Lebanese government mark 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 are also an opening for the Bush administration to press its wider goal of promoting democracy across the Middle East and throw a spotlight on what the United States contends is long-standing Syrian support for terrorism.

Speaking to reporters following an international conference on Palestinian security and political reform, Rice accused Syria of supporting terrorists who are trying to undermine progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“This is a long list of concerns about a Syria that is standing in the way of Lebanese, Iraqis, Palestinians and others in their aspirations for a better world,” Rice said.

In a separate interview with ABC News, Rice also said the deadly bombing last week in Tel Aviv, Israel, was planned in Syria.

“There is firm evidence that Palestinian Islamic Jihad, sitting in Damascus, not only knew about the attacks, but was involved in the planning,” she said.

At a press conference with French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, Rice said their two countries would support the scheduled election in Lebanon, perhaps by sending observers and monitors.

She suggested international peacekeepers might be needed eventually.

“As we see how the Lebanese will move forward I think we have to look at what can be done in terms of helping them to stabilize the situation, should that become necessary,” Rice said.

She gave no details, and later said it was too soon to talk about the specifics of security in Lebanon after a hypothetical Syrian withdrawal.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the administration had seen no signs that Syria was inclined to withdraw. “We are looking for clear indications that Syria intends to comply” with the U.N. resolution, he said.

The British-led conference was meant to strengthen the government of newly elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, on whom the Bush administration has pinned some of its hopes for the region.


The United States pulled its ambassador from Damascus last month in protest over the assassination of a leading Lebanese politician. The Bush administration did not blame Syria outright for Rafik Hariri’s killing.

The deadly bombing that killed him in Beirut on Feb. 14 set off a popular uprising against Syria and a series of apparent concessions from Damascus, which keeps about 15,000 troops in Lebanon. All key Lebanese political decisions get a stamp of approval from the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Syria in recent days has abandoned the pro-Syrian Lebanese prime minister, announced troop shifts at home and turned Saddam Hussein (newsweb sites)’s half brother over to Iraq (newsweb sites).

Rice said international pressure on Syria is working, and the United States probably will not ask for further international sanctions or other strong measures for now.

“The pressure of the international community is quite palpable on Syria,” she said.