Syria has 14,000 troops in Lebanon, but its dominant role in the country has come under increasing scrutiny as a result of mass demonstrations sparked by the assassination last month of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

"The withdrawal should be very soon and maybe in the next few months. Not after that," al-Asad told Time magazine in an interview published on Tuesday.

"I can't give you a technical answer. The point is the next few months."

Two weeks of unprecedented protests forced the pro-Syrian cabinet of prime minister Umar Karami to step down on Monday, piling pressure on Damascus and leaving officials with a complicated search for a new prime minister.

The Syrian president said the pullout depended on technical, rather than political, considerations.

"I could not say we could do it in two months because I have not had the meeting with the army people. They may say it will take six months," he said.

Delighted US

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has welcomed what she described as moves to restore democracy in Lebanon.

Condoleezza Rice has welcomed
recent developments in Lebanon

"Events in Lebanon are moving in a very important direction," Rice said. "The Lebanese people are starting to express their aspirations for democracy ... This is something that we support very much."

Rice and French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier repeated calls for Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.
  
Washington and Paris, co-sponsors of Security Council resolution 1559 demanding an end to foreign interference in Lebanon, called for general elections planned for May to be free and fair and suggested international assistance.
  
"They must have the opportunity to chart their own course through free and fair parliamentary elections this spring, bolstered by an international observer presence prior to and during the elections," the countries said in a joint statement.