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Rice In Surprise Visit To Lebanon

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to volatile Lebanon under heavy guard Friday to encourage a new democratic government outside Syrian control.

CBS News Reporter Charles Wolfson said Rice planned to visit officials of the newly formed government. That government emerged after political change that followed the Feb. 14 assassination of an anti-Syrian politician, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

"This will be an opportunity first of all to congratulate the Lebanon people on their incredible desire for democracy," Rice said en route to Beirut.

Rice's visit comes three days after formation of new Cabinet led Prime Minister-designate Foud Saniora.

"They keep pressing forward and they have now formed a government," Rice said. "I look forward to meeting and see how the international community and the United States in particular can be supportive."

Rice is the first senior U.S. official to visit Beirut in more than two years. She arrived from Jerusalem, home base for a long weekend of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders that included a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his desert ranch Friday morning.

There, Sharon and Rice talked about both the preparations for the Gaza withdrawal as well as the situation after it.

Wolfson said that members of the press corps traveling with Rice were given some advanced notice of the visit but were asked not to reveal any travel details.

The Lebanese opposition blamed Syria and its agents for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February.

Hariri's son, Saad Hariri, leads the newly dominate anti-Syrian faction in parliament and a protege of the elder Hariri will be the new prime minister. Rice was meeting with Hariri on Friday.

On Wednesday, the State Department said it prepared to work with the new government but not with any Hezbollah Cabinet members. The new 24-member parliament includes one member of the militant group the U.S. calls a terrorist organization.

Rice's predecessor, Colin Powell, was the last senior American diplomat to come to Beirut. At the time of his May 2003, Syria was still firmly entrenched as the dominate political and military force in Lebanon.

The United States helped lead international demands that Syria end its three decades of dominance in Lebanon. Syria withdrew its 14,000 troops in April, after weeks of street protests and political turmoil set off by the Hariri killing.

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