U.S. and France seek U.N. vote against Lebanon’s pro-Syria president
Associated Press Writer
UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The United States and France sought a U.N. Security Council vote Thursday to demand that Lebanon not grant a second term for its pro-Syrian president and that Syria immediately withdraw its troops from its Mideast neighbor.
U.S. Ambassador John Danforth said it was necessary to move quickly because the Lebanese Parliament scheduled a vote for Friday to amend the constitution so President Emile Lahoud, a close friend of the Syrian government, could keep his job.
“The government of Syria has put the hammer on Lebanon, basically instructing 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. “So if the Security Council is to speak about it, it has to speak about it right now.”
The Lebanese constitution now bans a president from serving two consecutive terms, but Parliament was expected to remove the restriction, with many seeing that as the desire of Syria, which wields the real power in Lebanon. Lebanese media estimated Lahoud was supported by 90 to 105 legislators in the 128-seat body, with 85 votes required to amend the charter.
The United States and France, Lebanon’s former colonial ruler, introduced the draft resolution at a closed-door council meeting late Wednesday. The council was expected to vote late Thursday but no time was set. Some of the council’s 15 members voiced strong opposition to the proposal, but diplomats said no permanent member had threatened to block it with a veto.
Nine votes were needed for adoption. Passage would not be binding on Lebanon and Syria, but the draft included language calling on the Security Council “to consider additional measures,” which were not specified, if the Syrians and Lebanese did not comply.
Syria’s involvement in Lebanon dates to 1976, when it sent troops in to help quell a year-old civil war that ended up raging for 14 more years. Lebanon’s government has repeatedly said the presence of the Syrian army has been a stabilizing factor since the war ended in 1990.
The West tolerated Syria’s control and even credited it with securing stability. But since the Sept. 11 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.
Lebanon’s government accused the United States and France on Tuesday of trying to “blackmail” it and Syria and create trouble between them. Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Fayssal Mekdad, told reporters the election of a president was an internal Lebanese matter and there was “no justification” for the council to discuss the issue.
Despite some opposition within the council, French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere predicted the resolution would be adopted. “I am confident that we will get the nine votes – I’m confident,” he told The Associated Press.