In an apparent overture to an organization on the U.S. terror blacklist, President Bush suggested Tuesday that Hezbollah should put down its arms and become fully integrated into Lebanon's political mainstream.
During an Oval Office appearance with Jordan's King Abdullah II, Bush was asked if he would consider a political role for Hezbollah, a group tied to the 1983 truck bombing at a Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans.
"We view Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and I would hope that Hezbollah would prove that they're not by laying down arms and not threatening peace," Bush told reporters.
Middle East experts said Bush's remarks appeared carefully scripted to send a message to Hezbollah that the United States might accept a role for the militant Shiite group once Syria withdraws its forces from Lebanon. By doing so, Bush probably hopes to lessen Hezbollah's opposition to a Syrian pullout, they said.
Hezbollah has 20,000 guerrilla fighters in Lebanon, 12 seats in Parliament, and sponsors a broad network of hospitals, orphanages, schools and recreational centers.
On Tuesday, Syrian military intelligence started clearing out its headquarters for the Beirut area and vacated other offices in the Lebanese capital and the north in line with key demands by the United States and Lebanese opposition.
In the capital's commercial district, about two dozen Syrian agents vacated an office during the afternoon. A short time later, a doorman hoisted two Lebanese flags at the entrance.