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UN Security Council Warns Syria to Stay Out of Lebanese Presidential Election - 2004-09-03

The U.N. Security Council has approved a veiled warning to Syria not to interfere in Lebaon's presidential election. The measure received the minimum nine votes needed for passage, with six countries abstaining.

The Security Council adopted the resolution by the narrowest of margins after sponsors France and the United States agreed to drop all direct references to Syria.

Earlier drafts demanded that Syrian forces withdraw from Lebanon without delay. The final version deleted the word "Syrian", calling only for the withdrawal of all remaining forces without delay.

Syria has an estimated 17,000 troops in Lebanon.

The sponsors hastily pushed through the resolution as Lebanon's parliament prepared to approve a constitutional amendment Friday allowing Syrian-backed President Emil Lahoud to serve another three-year term in office. His current six year terms expires in November.

Washington U.N. Ambassador John Danforth called passage of the measure urgent. He accused Syria of pressuring Lebanese lawmakers to pass the amendment. "The Lebanese parliament and the Lebanese cabinet should express will of people through the electoral process. What the Lebanese people and we witnessed over the past week in terms of Syrian action is a crude mockery of this principle. It is clear that Lebanese parliamentarians have been pressured and even threatened by Syria and its agents to make them comply," he said.

Ambassador Danforth acknowledged, however, that the resolution was not binding on Lebanon's parliament, but said "we are doing the best we can under the circumstances".

Syria and Lebanon both protested the resolution. Lebanon's Foreign Minister Mohammed Issa spoke before the vote. He urged the Council to withdraw the measure, describing it as an unprecedented case of interference in a country's internal affairs. "I don't believe that this internal matter that relates to a member state in the United Nations, it is a founding member of this international organization, I would like to say I don't think this matter has ever been discussed in the Security Council with regard to any member state of the United Nations. It is an internal matter, Mr. President," he said.

The Lebanese minister also defended the presence of Syrian troops in his country, saying there were there to defend against what he called "radical action emanating from Israel".

The resolution also asks Secretary General Kofi Annan to report within 30 days as to whether its terms are being implemented. If the finding is negative, the Council would consider additional measures to encourage compliance.