- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The United States and France are drafting a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Syria to stay out of Lebanon’s upcoming presidential election.

The move came after Syria pressured the Lebanese Cabinet last week to amend the constitution to permit pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud to serve an additional three years.

The Cabinet agreed, and a final vote to change the constitution now heads to the parliament, which is dominated by pro-Syrian legislators.

Syria, which is on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, has dominated Lebanese affairs since its troops entered the neighboring country in 1976 to end a 14-year civil war.

“We feel that the Syrian pressure to modify the Lebanese Constitution to permit President Lahoud to remain in office an additional three years is an affront to Lebanon’s sovereignty and political independence,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday.

In Lebanon, parliament elects the president, and Mr. Lahoud’s term is scheduled to end Nov. 24.

“It is our view, and I think the view of many in Lebanon, that it’s about time, 15 years after the Taif Accords, to live up to the spirit of those accords and have all foreign forces removed from Lebanon,” Mr. Boucher said Monday.

He was referring to a 1989 agreement signed in Taif, Saudi Arabia, that guaranteed Lebanon’s sovereignty.

The proposed U.N. resolution would call for elections under the present constitution and also require Syria to withdraw from Lebanon its remaining 20,000 troops. In addition, it would call on all foreign nations to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty.

A U.S. official at the United Nations said the United States is pushing for a vote on the resolution, even if it fails to achieve a consensus among Security Council members. Russia and China have voiced some concerns about the resolution, the official said.

The State Department also is considering sending Assistant U.S. Secretary of State William Burns to Damascus next week to speak directly with Syrian officials about U.S. concerns, Mr. Boucher said.

Even if the U.N. resolution passes, it will do little to change Syria’s power-broker status in Lebanon, said Laura King-Irani, an anthropology professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, who has written extensively about Lebanon.

“Syria is a baby sitter for the Lebanese, so to get them to leave is not easy, because many Lebanese do not want them to leave,” Mrs. King-Irani said.

Syria helped end Lebanon’s civil war in 1990 and establish stability, she said. Since then, Syria has wielded strong political and economic influence over its neighbor.

For things to change, Mrs. King-Irani said, the Lebanese would have to be able to maintain order in their country on their own.

“It’s not just the Syrians’ fault that they’re in Lebanon,” she said. “It comes down to the Lebanese and their part in this.”

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