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Arab Foreign Ministers Urge Syria to Get Out of Lebanon


Arab League foreign ministers met in Cairo in preparation for an Arab summit to be held later this month in Algeria. Although the topic was not on their agenda, the foreign ministers spent much of the day discussing the continued presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon. The foreign ministers expressed solidarity with Syria, but also indicated the need for Damascus to pull its troops out of Lebanon.

Arab foreign ministers have urged Syria to fully implement a 1989 accord and pull its troops out of Lebanon. And, apparently Syria is ready to comply, with some conditions.

According to a senior official with the Arab League, who asked not to be identified, Syria is demanding that peace talks resume with Israel before a troop pullout occurs.

The issue of Syrian troops in Lebanon dominated a one-day meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said efforts are being made to contain what he called the "big problems", and shift the current situation into a safer position. Other officials said efforts were being made to ease pressure off of Syria.

Syria has been under intense domestic and international pressure to pull its estimated 14,000 troops out of Lebanon.

Monday, pro-Syrian Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karami announced the resignation of his government following massive demonstrations in Beirut.

In 1989, a deal mediated by senior Arab leaders, called for a redeployment of Syrian troops in Lebanon to the eastern Lebanese border, with a negotiated pullout to follow. But approximately 14,000 Syrian troops remain in Lebanon.

Syrian officials, including President Bashar al-Assad, have recently indicated a willingness to remove thousands of troops from Lebanon, but have given no timetable for doing so.

Lebanese officials in Cairo say Beirut wants to maintain its friendly ties with Damascus, which has dominated Lebanese politics for more than a decade.

Notably absent from the meeting were the foreign ministers of Syria and Lebanon.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara traveled with President Assad to Saudi Arabia for consultations with Saudi officials regarding the situation in Lebanon. Outgoing Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmud Hammud sent a diplomat to Cairo to represent Lebanon.

The Arab foreign ministers Thursday also discussed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, as well as the post-election progress being made in Iraq.

The meeting of the foreign ministers will be followed by a two-day Arab summit beginning March 22 in Algiers.

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