- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 2, 2004

NEW YORK — The United States and France sought a U.N. Security Council vote yesterday to demand that Lebanon not grant an extended term for its pro-Syria president and that Syria immediately withdraw its troops from its Mideast neighbor.

U.S. Ambassador John Danforth said it was necessary to move quickly because the Lebanese Parliament had scheduled a vote for today to amend the constitution so President Emile Lahoud, a close ally of the Syrian government, could keep his job.

“The government of Syria has put the hammer on Lebanon, basically instructing Lebanon to amend the constitution — not to change the election process, but to abort the election process, and to extend the term of the president by three years,” Mr. Danforth said. “So if the Security Council is to speak about it, it has to speak about it right now.”

The Lebanese constitution bans a president from serving two consecutive terms, but Parliament was expected to remove the restriction, with many seeing that as the desire of Syria, which wields the real power in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. The Lebanese press said Mr. Lahoud was supported by 90 to 105 legislators in the 128-seat body, with 85 votes required to amend the charter.

The United States and France, Lebanon’s former colonial ruler, introduced the draft resolution at a closed-door council meeting late Wednesday.

The council was expected to vote last night, but no time was set. Some of the council’s 15 members voiced strong opposition to the proposal, but diplomats said no permanent member had threatened to block it with a veto.

Nine votes were needed for adoption of the resolution. Passage would not be binding on Lebanon and Syria, but the draft called on the Security Council “to consider additional measures,” which were not specified, if the Syrians and Lebanese did not comply.

Syria’s involvement in Lebanon dates to 1976, when it sent troops in to help quell a civil war that ended up raging for 14 more years. Lebanon’s government has said repeatedly that the presence of the Syrian army has been a stabilizing factor since the war ended.

The West tolerated Syria’s control and even credited it with securing stability. But since the September 11 terrorist attacks, Western nations have been calling for democracy to take hold in the Arab world as a way to fight extremism, and the Bush administration has accused Syria repeatedly of sponsoring terrorism.

Lebanon’s government accused the United States and France on Tuesday of trying to “blackmail” it and Syria and create trouble between them. Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Fayssal Mekdad, said the election of a president was an internal Lebanese matter and there was “no justification” for the council to discuss the issue.

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