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U.N. Resolution on Lebanon Targets Syria

A measure approved by the council aims to stem Damascus' interference in the election process.

September 03, 2004|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — The Security Council narrowly passed a resolution Thursday meant to stop Syria from interfering with Lebanon's upcoming presidential election. But in a major concession by the United States and France to win passage, the document dropped mention of both Syria and sanctions.

The measure received nine votes from the 15-member council -- the minimum for adoption. Six countries abstained. France and the United States, which have not seen eye to eye on a number of issues lately, including the war in Iraq, united to counter what they said was Syria's improper influence in Lebanon's political affairs.

They charged that Syria pressured the Lebanese government to amend the constitution to allow pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud to extend his six-year term by three years. Lebanon's Cabinet approved the change last week, and the 128-member parliament is expected to amend the constitution today, despite opposition from religious and political leaders.

Syria has maintained a strong influence in Lebanon for decades, having sent forces into the country in 1976 to try to curb the civil war. Nearly 20,000 troops remain there, although the conflict ended nearly 15 years ago.

"It is wrong for Syria to continue to maintain its forces in Lebanon ... and it would be very wrong of Syria to continue to interfere in the presidential electoral process in Lebanon," U.S. Ambassador John C. Danforth said after the vote.

Without naming Syria, the resolution calls on "all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon" and urges that the upcoming presidential election be "conducted according to Lebanese constitutional rules devised without foreign interference or influence."

Syrian Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad called the resolution a "big failure."

"With all the pressure and arm-twisting and contacts at the highest levels, the U.S. could not get the necessary votes with any mention of Syria or sanctions," he said.

President Bush and his French counterpart, Jacques Chirac, reportedly telephoned the heads of states of council members to lobby for the resolution. Britain and Germany signed on as co-sponsors.

The measure faced stiff resistance from China, Russia, Pakistan and Algeria, which questioned the resolution's legal basis and argued that the council had no right to meddle in a country's domestic politics.

"There is no threat to peace and security," Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali said. "The Security Council's intervention establishes a harmful precedent, which must not be repeated."

Before the vote, a Lebanese Foreign Ministry official, Mohammed Issa, told the council that his country did not want the U.N. involved and asked for the resolution to be withdrawn.

"I don't think that this matter has ever been discussed in the Security Council with regard to any member state of the United Nations," he said. "It is an internal matter."

The U.S. and France justified the diplomatic intervention, saying that it was not violating Lebanon's sovereignty but trying to protect it. If the amendment is passed today, it will be the third time in 10 years that Lebanon has changed its constitution to guarantee a pro-Syrian president, diplomats said.

"The government of Syria has put the hammer on Lebanon, basically instructed 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," Danforth said Wednesday.

Washington and Paris rushed the council vote in hopes of influencing today's parliament session in Beirut. Lebanon's presidential election had been scheduled for November.

A flurry of negotiations resulted in Chile becoming the crucial ninth supporter after proposing amendments that removed Syria's name and the threat of sanctions. Other supporters were Spain, Romania, Angola and Benin. China, Russia, Pakistan, Algeria, Brazil and the Philippines abstained.

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