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Syria Criticizes US Role in Lebanon's Presidential Vote


Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem says the United States is obstructing the progress of a presidential vote in Lebanon.

Moallem told reporters in Damascus Thursday that Syria wants an election in Lebanon as soon as possible. But he said the United States is blocking progress by ignoring consensus in Lebanon's sectarian political system.

Moallem said Syria backs Lebanon's choice for army chief General Michel Suleiman as a consensus presidential candidate and supports the formation of a national unity government.

Addressing White House reporters Thursday, President Bush said Syria is destabilizing Lebanon and needs to stay out of the process.

Mr. Bush said he has no patience for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and will not hold direct talks with Damascus on ending Lebanon's political crisis.

The Lebanese parliament is expected to meet for the 10th time Saturday in another effort to elect a new head of state.

U.S. envoy David Welch met Lebanese government and opposition figures in Beirut for a second day Wednesday to urge them to resolve differences ahead of Saturday's scheduled vote.

Lebanon's pro-Western ruling coalition and the Hezbollah-led opposition have agreed that General Suleiman should become the next president. But they have failed to reach a broader agreement on how to fill other government posts.

The two sides also disagree about how to amend Lebanon's constitution to allow General Suleiman to be elected. The charter forbids senior political appointees from standing for president while in office.

Lebanon has been without a president since pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud stepped down on November 23 at the end of his term.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.