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U.S., France Circulate Resolution Seeking Syria-Lebanon Ties

The United States and France circulated a new resolution Thursday calling on Syria to respond positively to Lebanon's request to establish diplomatic ties and mark their border.

The draft endorses a recent report by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that urged Iran as well as Syria to cooperate in trying to restore Lebanon's political independence and disarm militias, the first time the U.N. chief linked Tehran to instability in Lebanon.

It noted the "close ties, with frequent contacts and regular communication," that Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas, who are listed as a terrorist group by the United States, have with Syria and Lebanon.

Without mentioning Iran by name, the proposed resolution calls on "all concerned states and parties as mentioned in the report to cooperate fully with the government of Lebanon, the Security Council and the secretary-general" to fully implement all requirements of a council resolution adopted in September 2004.

That resolution called for strict respect for Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence under Lebanese government authority. It also called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, the disbanding and disarmament of all militias, and the extension of government authority throughout the country.

The United States and France, who sponsored resolution 1559 in 2004, will present the new draft to the Security Council on Friday, where it could face opposition from Russia and China who have questioned the need for a new measure.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday that resolution 1559 does not speak about things included in Annan's report.

"This does not mean that exchange of embassies and delimitation between Syria and Lebanon should wait," Lavrov said. "We believe this should be encouraged, but it has nothing to do with 1559."

Syria's deputy foreign minister, Fayssal Mekdad, strongly opposed the new resolution and urged the Security Council on Tuesday to stop interfering in Lebanon-Syria relations.

The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, soon after resolution 1559 was adopted, proved to be a turning point in Lebanon's recent history. It led to Syria's withdrawal of its troops from Lebanon, ending a 29-year presence in the country, and parliamentary elections in which anti-Syrian legislators gained the majority.

The proposed draft states that while there has been "further significant progress" in implementing resolution 1559, especially through a national dialogue now taking place in Lebanon, many of its provisions have not been fulfilled.

It expresses regret that the militias have not been disbanded, that the Lebanese government's authority has not been extended throughout the country, that Lebanon's sovereignty and political independence are not being fully respected, and that free and fair presidential elections without foreign interference have not been held.

Mekdad insisted that "Syria has fully implemented its part of 1559."

"What we hope is that the situation is calmed down and foreign interference, mainly American interference into the internal affairs of Lebanon (ends), and I'm sure Lebanon will live in peace after that," he said.

Mekdad said Syria is "not reluctant" to settle the most contentious border issue — the Chebaa Farms — but it will not do so until Israel withdraws from the area.

Israel captured the Chebaa Farms area when its forces seized Syria's Golan Heights in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Lebanon claims the area but the United Nations determined that it is Syrian, and that Syria and Israel should negotiate its fate.

"Let Israel leave and end its occupation of Chebaa," he said. "This land will go immediately to Lebanon."

What about marking the border on maps?

"This is a Lebanese-Israeli problem. By such allegations, they are trying to involve Syria and give the impression that Syria is the one who is occupying Chebaa farmlands," Mekdad said.

As for diplomatic relations with Lebanon, he said, "we are open to discuss it if our Lebanese brothers want to discuss it."

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said resolution 1559 does not speak about issues included in Annan's report.

"This does not mean that exchange of embassies and delimitation between Syria and Lebanon should wait," Lavrov said. "We believe this should be encouraged, but it has nothing to do with 1559."