- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2005

CAIRO — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said yesterday he expects further Syrian troop redeployments in Lebanon, and he dispatched his intelligence chief to Damascus to meet with President Bashar Assad to discuss increasing American and European pressure on Syria.

Mr. Mubarak did not mention, however, any troop pullout.

“Syria was to carry out some redeployment of its troops in Lebanon. Syrian President Assad promised to do so during our recent meeting in Sharm el Sheik — and I think he will do this,” Mr. Mubarak told Egyptian reporters in Sharm el Sheik, the Red Sea resort town where he spends much time in the winter.

Syria keeps about 15,000 troops in Lebanon and influences all key Lebanese political decisions. Over the years, it has redeployed them regularly, sometimes decreasing numbers, but has kept them in the country since their arrival during Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war.

Mr. Mubarak acknowledged the growing international pressure on Syria, which President Bush ratcheted up again yesterday, reiterating to reporters in Germany that “the position of our government is Syria must withdraw not only the troops, but its secret services from Lebanon.”

The pressure has grown inside Lebanon and from the international community since the Feb. 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which opponents of Syria’s strong military and political role in Lebanon blame on Syria and the Damascus-allied Lebanese government. Both have denied the accusations.

“It is difficult for Syria to face the mounting pressure from the international community,” Mr. Mubarak said.

Presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad said Mr. Mubarak had decided to send intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to Damascus after he spoke by telephone with Mr. Assad on Tuesday.

Mr. Awad said Mr. Mubarak thought the “tense situation in Lebanon and the escalation of pressure on Syria through the U.S.-European summit needed a swift and vigorous move to contain the situation there.”

Mr. Bush and EU leaders called during a summit Tuesday in Brussels for an immediate Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon and a speedy U.N. investigation into Mr. Hariri’s killing.

Syria’s English-language government newspaper Syria Times yesterday said Washington’s “first, second and third priority is to drive a wedge between Europe and the Arab world.”

In Beirut, Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karami said he will seek a vote of confidence in parliament on Monday, when lawmakers convene to hear the government explain all available facts surrounding the bombing that killed Mr. Hariri and 16 others. The debate was requested by opposition legislators.

“I am ready to resign on condition that we agree on a new government in order to avoid falling into a constitutional vacuum,” Mr. Karami told the leading An-Nahar newspaper.

President Emile Lahoud took a tougher line in a separate interview, saying there can be no action under pressure.

Mr. Lahoud told the Sada al-Balad newspaper that the government “cannot succumb to opposition demands,” adding that the only way to solve problems is through dialogue.

Mr. Karami has a majority of support in parliament, but that could change amid growing calls at home and abroad for the government to resign in the wake of Mr. Hariri’s assassination.

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