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US Rejects Syrian Plan for Lebanon, Demands Full Withdrawal


The Bush administration Monday dismissed Syria's two-stage plan to withdraw its forces from Lebanon and said there should be a full and immediate pullout. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meanwhile is talking with European officials about ways to help the Beirut government assert authority over the entire country.

The comments from the White House and State Departments follow Monday's statement from Damascus that Syrian troops would complete a move to eastern Lebanon by the end of this month, and that the Syrian and Lebanese military would decide later how long the Syrians would remain in the border area.

The United States, which along with France pushed a resolution through the U.N. Security Council last September calling for the departure of all foreign troops from Lebanon, dismissed the Syrian plan as inadequate.

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said Syria should implement Security Council resolution 1559 now, and that there is no need for further talks on the subject.

"We're not looking for half-measures here. We're looking for full and immediate withdrawal. So we've seen the joint statement that was issued by Presidents Assad and Lahoud. We once more reiterate what the United Nations has said what the international community is saying: that Syria must leave Lebanon and leave Lebanon now. The time for words and communiqu├ęs and statements and discussions of more meetings is really gone," he said.

The U.S. stand was echoed by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac, who said in a joint statement they expect Syria to withdraw its troops and security agents completely and as quickly as possible.

President Bush also had a telephone conversation with Mr. Chirac late Monday, in which they expressed their mutual determination to see Resolution 1559 fulfilled.

A French spokesman said they stressed the importance of a pending visit to Lebanon by U.N. special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen and agreed to remain in constant contact on the issue.

State Department Spokesman Boucher said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also discussed Lebanon Monday with French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier and European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana.

While providing no details, he said they discussed ways the international community might help monitor the security situation in Lebanon after a Syrian withdrawal, and how to assist the Beirut government in extending its authority throughout the country.

The Lebanese government has resisted calls from the United States and others to deploy forces in the area along the border with Israel, after Israel dismantled its self-proclaimed security zone in southern Lebanon 2000.

That left the pro-Iranian Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which the United States lists as a terrorist organization, largely in control of the border strip.

Hezbollah has been a vocal supporter of Damascus in the political crisis which erupted in Lebanon after last month's assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

While most Lebanese factions, Christian, Sunni Muslim and Druze, have joined in pressing for a Syrian withdrawal, the leader of the Shiite Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has called for demonstrations against the U.N. resolution and what he depicted as foreign interference in Lebanon, led by the United States and France.