- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

The United States and the United Nations yesterday called on Syria to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon as soon as possible to prove that it recognizes its neighbor as a sovereign state rather than an extension of its own territory.

Opening a Syrian Embassy in Beirut — which never has existed — will be the next logical step after Damascus withdraws its troops from Lebanon by the end of the month, as it has promised, U.S. and U.N. officials said.

“We’ve always urged Syria to recognize Lebanon as a separate and independent state and to establish an embassy there,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

In Beirut, U.N. special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said the “special relationship” between the two neighbors “should be continued on the basis of formal diplomatic” ties.

“It’s indeed my hope that shortly there will be establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and that will lead to establishment of embassies,” he said at a press conference.

Foreign Ministry officials in both Beirut and Damascus declined to comment on the issue.

Lebanon was carved out of what used to be Greater Syria in 1920, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. But the League of Nations soon put both countries under French mandate, and they did not gain independence until the 1940s.

Syrian troops first entered Lebanon in 1976, a year after the beginning of the 16-year civil war. Damascus’ recent pledge to withdraw all forces and security agents by April 30 came after intense international pressure following the Feb. 14 killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 19 others in a Beirut bombing.

Mr. Roed-Larsen’s mission is to facilitate the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 sponsored by the United States and France in September, which called for the withdrawal.

More than 100 Syrian military trucks left Lebanon yesterday, carrying troops, weapons, equipment and furniture, wire reports quoted witnesses as saying. One truck even was carrying cows.

It was one of the biggest movements of Syrian forces across the border in a single day since the pullback of the 14,000 troops began March 8.

Mr. Roed-Larsen urged the Lebanese not to delay parliamentary elections due to take place before the current legislature’s mandate expires at the end of May.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan “believes that these elections are a primary instrument for safeguarding the continued stability of the country,” the envoy said.

Resolution 1559 also demands the dismantling and disarming of militias in Lebanon, such as the Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah guerrilla group.

Mr. Roed-Larsen said Tuesday that his main focus for now was on the Syrian pullout and the Lebanese elections, adding that militia disarmament would move higher up on the agenda in the next six months.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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