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US, France, Britain Offer UN Resolution on Lebanon - 2004-09-01

The United States, France and Britain are co-sponsoring a U.N. Security Council resolution upholding Lebanon's sovereignty in the face of Syrian pressure to extend the term of the country's President Emile Lahoud.

U.S. diplomats began circulating language for the resolution earlier this week but officials here say the measure is now being presented as a formal draft, co-sponsored by the United States, France and Britain.

The measure is aimed at reaffirming international support for Lebanon's independence in the face of Syrian pressure to amend the country's constitution to allow President Emile Lahoud, an ally of Damascus, to remain in office even though his six-year term nominally ends in November.

Despite widespread opposition to a constitutional change by Lebanese political and religious figures, the Lebanese cabinet - in an unusual ten-minute session last Saturday - approved an amendment that would allow Mr. Lahoud to serve another three years.

The action, which still requires parliamentary approval, came amid a background of what U.S. officials say is heavy pressure from Syrian authorities.

State Department spokesman Thomas Casey says the proposed Security Council resolution will call for respect for Lebanese sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence, while specifically calling on Syria to end its military presence in Lebanon.

"The draft will demand that Syrian forces withdraw without delay from Lebanon," he said. "It will call for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias. And it will declare support for a free and fair electoral process in Lebanon's upcoming presidential elections, without foreign interference or influence."

Syria sent troops into Lebanon under an Arab league mandate in 1975 to try to quell Lebanon's civil war. But some 16,000 Syrian troops remain there despite withdrawal provisions in the 1989 Taif agreements that formally ended the Lebanese conflict.

The reference on the draft resolution to militias applies to the pro-Iranian, Syrian backed, Hezbollah militia which never disarmed after the civil war, and remains active in southern Lebanon despite Israel's withdrawal from the area in 2000.

The Lebanese government itself has rejected the proposed U.N. resolution, accusing the United States, France and Britain of trying to "blackmail" it and create trouble between Beirut and Damascus.

But spokesman Casey said there are "a lot of opinions" being voiced by Lebanese about the latest political developments, many of whom he said are "quite concerned" about the effort to extend Mr. Lahoud's term and its implications.