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UN Security Council Urges Syria to Establish Ties with Lebanon

The U.N. Security Council is pressing Syria to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon and define their common border.

The Council adopted a resolution strongly encouraging Syria to establish formal diplomatic ties with Lebanon. The measure sponsored by France, Britain and the United States also calls for the two neighbors to set their common border.

Thirteen of the Council's 15 member states voted in favor of the resolution. China and Russia abstained.

Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said he would have preferred a unanimous vote. B ut he called the resolution an important step in implementing previous Council demands for the disarming of militias and the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon.

"It clearly says to Syria that it needs to do more to stop the flow of weapons across the Syrian/Lebanese border, and makes clear that further disarming of all militias inside Lebanon is an important priority," he said.

The resolution makes makes no specific mention of Iran, as did a recent report to the Council by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. But Bolton said he was satisfied with a clear implicit reference to Iran's role in Lebanon.

"Now the two states mentioned are Iran and Syria," he said. "So there is no ambiguity what that phrase means. It could have named Iran in its full four letters, but that reference makes it unambiguously clear that Iran is referred to."

Syria had lobbied hard to have the resolution defeated. Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad came to the U.N. last week arguing the measure constituted interference in the relationship between Damascus and Beirut.

Russia and China made clear that they thought the resolution was unnecessary. But they chose to abstain rather than use their veto power.

Moscow's U.N. Ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, described the measure as "unhelpful" in settling bilateral issues between Syria and Lebanon.

"We simply do not believe it's the best way to develop dialogue to get the two sides into the habit of talking through the Security Council," he said. "We're in favor of dialogue. We just do not think it is right for the Security Council to look over their shoulder at every particular juncture and make comments and remarks about the particular nature of their dialogue."

Syria's foreign ministry in a written statement called the Security Council action provocative and biased.

Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon last year, after 29 years of military and political domination of its smaller neighbor.

But Secretary-General Kofi Annan's recent report noted that Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon continue to maintain close ties with Syria and Iran. The United States lists Hezbollah as a terrorist group.