(AFP) BEIRUT – US Middle East envoy William Burns will deliver a strong message to Damascus during his forthcoming visit, calling once more for Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, a Lebanese newspaper reported Friday.
“Burns will deliver a strong message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad because it is time for Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon and for an end to all interference in its internal affairs,” Burns’ deputy Elizabeth Dibble was quoted as saying in an interview with Arabic-languague As-Safir.
Dibble’s declarations come amid increasing tensions between Washington and Damascus over Syria’s domination of Lebanon’s domestic affairs and charges that it is sponsoring terrorism.
“This is not a new message because he has been told in the past, but it is important to say it again at the highest level of the Syrian leadership,” Dibble was quoted as saying.
Burns is due in Damascus Saturday for talks with Assad and Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara, but will not visit Lebanon.
“A visit by Burns to Beirut at the moment would be inopportune,” Dibble said.
She also said Washington was considering further sanctions against Syria following the adoption last week of UN Resolution 1559 calling for Lebanon’s sovereignty to be respected, implicitly targeting Syria.
“Our options include a return to the Security Ccouncil as well as the imposition of new sanctions on Syria,” Dibble said.
Washington imposed sanctions on Damascus in May over charges it was supporting terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction.
Syria, the major power broker in Lebanon, has about 16,000 troops stationed in Lebanon, a holdover since it intervened in the country’s civil war in 1976.
“Depending on how Burns gets on in Damascus and on the report that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is due to release in less than a month concerning Syria’s application of resolution 1559, we will weigh up our options,” she said.
The UN resolution was adopted in the face of a Syrian-inspired amendment to Lebanon’s constitution that gives its protege, President Emile Lahoud, a second term in office when his mandate expires in November.
“The international community has clearly told Syria that it expects a change in their behaviour. That’s Burns’ message.”
She said the resolution does not punish Syria for its position on Iraq and the Palestinian territories, “Syria is punishing the Lebanese.”
For its part, Damascus has criticised the US for seeking to punish its opposition to the US-led war in Iraq.
Dibble said Burns’ Damascus agenda would include seeking “an end to the entry of individuals and material to Iraq (from Syria) and Syrian support for terrorism.”