UNITED NATIONS – The United States is calling for the immediate withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, according to a a draft resolution circulated in the U.N. Security Council late Tuesday.
The new measure also offers support for elections under the current Lebanese constitution, which would rule out a second term for pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud.
The United States decided to press for a resolution – with the support of France, Lebanon’s former colonial ruler – after what many saw as a Syrian-engineered move to change the constitution to extend Lahoud’s term.
The resolution calls on the council “to consider additional measures,” which are not specified, if the Syrians and Lebanese don’t comply.
Lebanon accused the United States and France Tuesday of trying to “blackmail” it and Syria, and create trouble between Beirut and Damascus.
U.S. deputy ambassador Anne Patterson said the United States wants the Security Council to vote on the draft resolution “hopefully by Wednesday or Thursday.” But the draft is almost certain to face opposition from Algeria, the only Arab nation on the council, and probably from Russia and China, which traditionally oppose council interference in a country’s internal affairs.
In Washington, the Bush administration sharply criticized Syria for meddling in Lebanon’s politics, and a senior U.S. diplomat was likely to go to Damascus for high-level talks.
But Lebanese Foreign Minister Jean Obeid said Lebanese-Syrian relations are a matter for both countries to decide. He said Lebanon “completely separates between dealing with our internal affairs and international attempts at blackmail with the aim of fomenting a dispute between us and our brothers (in Syria).”
Syria’s involvement in Lebanon dates back to 1976, when it sent its troops to Lebanon to help quell a year-old civil war that raged on for another 14 years. The West tolerated its control and even credited Syria with securing stability.
But since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Western nations have been calling for democracy to take hold in the Arab world as a way to fight extremism – and President Bush’s administration has repeatedly accused Syria of sponsoring terrorism.
The draft resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, calls for “the strict respect of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence.”
It “demands that Syrian forces withdraw without delay from Lebanon” and declares the Security Council’s “support for a free and fair electoral process in Lebanon’s upcoming presidential election conducted according to Lebanese constitutional rules devised without foreign interference or influence.”
The Lebanese Cabinet last week approved an amendment to the constitution to allow Lahoud to stay in power three more years.
Parliament, instead of voting for a new president for the next six years, will have to vote on an extension to Lahoud’s term, which expires Nov. 24. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called late Tuesday for a meeting of the 128-member legislature on Friday to amend the constitution to extend Lahoud’s term.
The draft resolution asks Secretary-General Kofi Annan to report on implementation within 30 days. It was not drafted under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, so military action would not be an option.
The Lebanese Foreign Ministry said in a letter to the Security Council that U.N. action would be “a dangerous precedent.”