The State Department Wednesday expressed disappointment over a decision by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to delay, until next week, release of a report on Syrian compliance with the Security Council resolution calling for its withdrawal from Lebanon. Syrian President Bashar Assad asked for the delay.
The State Department has confirmed that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned the United Nations chief Monday to object to the delay, which U.S. officials say could encourage Damascus to try to evade terms of the U.N. resolution.
The report on Syrian compliance with Security Council resolution 1559, approved last September, was to have been issued Tuesday. But Mr. Annan agreed to put off release until April 26 at the request of Syrian President Assad.
Mr. Annan is understood to have agreed to the delay without consulting key Security Council members, and the decision drew complaints from both the United States and France, the co-sponsors of the resolution demanding the withdrawal from Lebanon of Syrian troops and intelligence operatives.
The Washington Post said Wednesday the report, drafted for Secretary Annan by U.N. Lebanon envoy Terje Roed Larsen, says Syria has not fully complied with the measure, especially with regard to its intelligence presence.
The newspaper said both Secretary Rice and French President Jacques Chirac told Secretary Annan in separate telephone calls Monday that the delay might encourage Damascus to believe it could manipulate or delay the final phase of its withdrawal.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said that in her call to Mr. Annan, Secretary Rice made the case for the timely publication of the report, so there would be no doubt about the unity of the international community on the Syrian withdrawal.
"You'll have to speak to the secretary-general about the reasoning for that decision," he said. "We're disappointed by it. We don't see the need for delaying it. But we also want to keep the focus on what's important here. And what's important is that we work together to achieve withdrawal of all Syrian forces, intelligence assets and have elections in Lebanon. And I think that this decision notwithstanding, we're moving in that direction."
According to press accounts, the pending U.N. report will call for sending an international verification mission to Lebanon to make a formal assessment of Syrian compliance.
Spokesman Ereli said the United States supports such a mission and would encourage its dispatch to Lebanon by the end of this month.
Syria has pledged to withdraw before the end of the month and according to Lebanese officials, only about 1,000 Syrian troops remain in the country, down from about 14,000 in February.
U.S. officials have expressed concern that a lingering Syrian intelligence presence in Lebanon could be an intimidating factor in the country's national elections due to be held before the end of May.