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US Considers Security Council Resolution on Syria's Role in Lebanon - 2004-08-30


Officials say the United States may seek a U.N. Security Council resolution insisting that Lebanon be allowed to decide its political future without Syrian interference. Syria is behind a move to extend the term in office of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud.

The State Department has expressed deep concern about what is seen here as a heavy-handed Syrian effort to keep its political ally, Mr. Lahoud in office.

A senior diplomat says the United States has been consulting with France and others on the Security Council about a possible resolution underlining support for Lebanese sovereignty.

Despite criticism from the United States, European governments and Lebanese religious leaders, the Lebanese cabinet Saturday endorsed a Syrian-backed amendment to the country's constitution allowing Mr. Lahoud to serve another three years in office.

The Lebanese constitution currently limits the president to one six-year term in office. The Lebanese parliament, where pro-Syrian legislators have a majority, is expected to approve the amendment sometime in September.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher reiterated a White House statement late last week that the political process in Lebanon should go forward under its existing constitution and free of foreign interference. He also said it is high time Syria met its obligation under 1989 accords ending the Lebanese civil war, and removed remaining troops from Lebanon.

"The Lebanese should be able to figure out their own future free of all and any outside interference," he said. "It is our view, and I think the view of many in Lebanon that is about time, 15 years after the Taif accords, to live up to the spirit of those accords and have all foreign forces removed from Lebanon. We have heard a lot of voices in Lebanon standing up for the established constitution, and we think the Lebanese people should be allowed to decide without influence from other parties."

Syria intervened in Lebanon in 1976 under an Arab League mandate to try to end civil warfare there.

The Taif accords, signed in that Saudi Arabian city in 1989, provided for Lebanese political reforms, the disbanding of militias, and for a timetable for Syrian withdrawal.

Syria has since reduced its forces and re-deployed them within Lebanon, but about 16,000 troops remain with the nominal consent of the government.

U.S. officials say the rationale for the Syrian presence has been undercut by, among other things, Israel's withdrawal from its so-called "security zone" in southern Lebanon in 2000.

Officials say the State Department's top Middle East diplomat, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns, is considering a visit to Syria and Lebanon as part of a broader regional trip early next month for further talks on the issue.

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