WASHINGTON – U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) on Wednesday demanded Syria fully comply with U.N. Security Council resolution 1559, which calls for Syria to pull out all of its 14,000 military and security forces remaining in Lebanon.
"I expect the full withdrawal of all Syrian troops, including the intelligence apparatus and military assets, to take place before the Lebanese parliamentary elections," Annan said during the final day of the annual Arab Summit (search) in Algiers, Algeria. Syrian President Bashar Assad (search) was in the audience.
Back in Washington, D.C., Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha (search) said the pullout will happen "sooner than you might expect." He added that per Assad's pledge to Annan on Tuesday, the timetable will be worked out at a meeting between Syrian and Lebanese military commanders scheduled for early April.
"We will withdraw as soon as possible. The sooner, the better. And we're not talking about two or three months. We will do this very, very quickly," Moustapha said in a speech at Georgetown University.
Lebanon's elections are set for May. Their importance has grown since the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (search), who many suspect was killed by Syrian agents.
The assassination led to massive street protests in Beirut, both for and against Syria's withdrawal. But even with pledges of withdrawal and coming parliamentary elections, Lebanon is not at peace. On Tuesday, a bomb tore through a shopping center in a predominantly Christian area outside Beirut. Three people died.
That explosion followed a car bomb on Saturday, targeting another Christian suburb. Nine were wounded in that attack. Both incidents are seen by analysts as an attempt to stifle Lebanese opposition to Syria in advance of the May election.
Moustapha suggested no one would try to undermine an event desired by Washington.
"I don't think any country in the world would like to be regarded as an enemy to the United States," he said.
A computer science expert who got his PhD in England, Moustapha uses humor to make his main points, namely that the United States "blindly" parrots Israeli propaganda and unfairly demonizes his country, which he boasted has had women judges and professors for 50 years.
Moustapha claimed Damascus will adopt measures this summer to allow the formation of unlimited numbers of political parties along with other long-sought reforms.
"Our plans are, by June 2005, not to have a single political prisoner in Syria. We want to make anything similar to your Guantanamo Bay (search) a part of the past," Moustapha said, referring to the U.S. military base in Cuba where terrorist suspects are detained.
But the American ambassador to Syria, Margaret Scobey, recalled after the killing of Hariri, is not headed back to Damascus anytime soon. And when asked about that issue on Wednesday, a State Department spokesman said he didn't even have any criteria for estimating when that might happen.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' James Rosen.