MAINZ, Germany (AFP) – US President George W. Bush said Syria must withdraw its troops and “secret services” from Lebanon but that he would await the response from Damascus before seeking any new UN sanctions.  “Syria must withdraw not only the troops but its secret services from Lebanon,” Bush said during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Bush added that Damascus must not try to influence upcoming parliamentary elections in Lebanon. “Syria in so doing will indicate the other point that the president of France and I wanted to make and that is those elections that are coming up need to be free, without any Syrian influence.”

When asked whether he would try to urge European leaders to seek sanctions against Damascus, Bush said he would watch the reaction of the Syrians.

“The charge is out there for the Syrian government to hear loud and clear and we will see how they respond before there’s any further discussions about going back to the United Nations (newsweb sites),” he said.

Bush and his French counterpart Jacques Chirac made a joint call after talks late Monday for Syrian soldiers to pull out of Lebanon.

Schroeder said he agreed with the US position and called for an independent investigation of the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri on February 14.

UN resolution 1559, sponsored by the United States and France, calls for all foreign forces to be pulled out of Lebanon and for militias such as Hezbollah to be dissolved.

Syria maintains 14,000 troops in the country, but has been facing growing pressure to pull out of Lebanon following Hariri’s killing.

The United States has been hardening its tone with Syria on several fronts in recent months and last week recalled its ambassador to Damascus for urgent consultations as a strong signal of its displeasure.

The Americans are seeking a full and transparent investigation of the bomb attack that killed Hariri and 17 other people in Beirut. Washington blames the Syrians indirectly, if not directly.

In addition to the withdrawal from Lebanon, Washington is also demanding Syria end its support for insurgents in neighboring Iraq (newsweb sites) as well as Islamic militants seeking to torpedo the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.