- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2005

Watching Lebanon

The U.S. ambassador to Lebanon touched a raw nerve this week when he disclosed that the United States had warned Syria against interfering in Lebanon’s spring parliamentary elections.

Syria has strong supporters in the top ranks of the Lebanese government and equally fierce critics in the political opposition who complain about the continued Syrian occupation of their country.

Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman briefed Lebanese President Emile Lahoud about the visit this week by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Syria. Mr. Armitage told the authoritarian Syrian government that the United States will monitor Lebanon’s May elections “closely and with great interest,” according to a statement posted on the Web site of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. (The site is located at www.usembassy.gov.lb.)

Mr. Armitage urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the withdrawal of Syria’s 14,000 troops from Lebanon.

Lebanese Interior Minister Elie Ferzli complained that Mr. Feltman was interfering in the country’s internal affairs.

“It is unnecessary for ambassadors to consider themselves an integral part of the domestic political scene,” he told reporters.

Nabih Berri, the pro-Syrian speaker of the Lebanese parliament, accused Mr. Feltman of trying “to provoke a row” between Syria and Lebanon.

However, opposition leader Walid Jumblatt saw the elections as a chance to install a government that will oppose Syrian control and bring an end to “the only satellite state in the world.”

In its statement, the embassy said the elections will be credible only if all candidates get a “fair opportunity to compete free from intimidation or the threat of violence.”

“The United States believes that Lebanon’s spring parliamentary elections, if fair and credible, are a superb opportunity for the people and the government of Lebanon to show the world that Lebanon’s historic democratic traditions remain strong,” the embassy said.

El Salvador’s appeal

The president of El Salvador today will appeal for another extension of U.S. immigration law to allow more than 280,000 Salvadorans to continue living in the United States.

Elias Antonio Saca will hold a 3 p.m. press conference at the National Press Club to call for a renewal of the “temporary protected status” that has benefited Salvadorans since it was first issued after two devastating earthquakes in 2001. The immigration protection is scheduled to expire in March.

The Salvadoran government asked for the original status because it was unable to absorb the large number of Salvadorans whose immigration permits were to expire.

India caucus change

As the new co-chairman of the House caucus on India, Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says her primary goal is to promote the common goals of freedom and liberty.

“I am honored to be part of this important caucus and will work tirelessly on behalf of U.S.-India relations to make sure that the world’s two largest democracies promote their values of freedom and liberty throughout the globe,” she said this week.

The caucus goals are to promote bilateral relations, address issues involving Indian-Americans and monitor developments in India and the region which is still counting its dead from the recent tsunami.

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen replaces Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina as the Republican co-chairman of the caucus. The Democratic co-chairman is Rep. Gary L. Ackerman of New York.

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen is chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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