WASHINGTON,(Reuters) – President George W. Bush, who is facing calls to try to engage Syria over Iraq, on Wednesday criticized Damascus for its handling of human rights and actions in Lebanon. “The United States supports the Syrian people’s desire for democracy, human rights and freedom of expression,” Bush said in a statement. “The Syrian regime should immediately free all political prisoners.”
Bush said Syria should “cease its efforts to undermine Lebanese sovereignty” and disclose the whereabouts of Lebanese arrested during Syria’s military occupation of Lebanon. The influential Iraq Study Group led by former Secretary of State James Baker urged the Bush administration to consider direct talks with Iran and Syria but the White House has so far rejected such contacts.