The United States and France introduced a Security Council resolution Wednesday demanding that 20,000 Syrian troops "withdraw without delay" from Lebanon and that Syria stop meddling in the country's November elections. It threatens to consider unspecified "additional measures" against Syria to ensure compliance.
The resolution reflects mounting frustration by Washington and Paris that Syria is seeking to rewrite Lebanon's constitution to guarantee that the country's pro-Syrian leader, President Emile Lahoud, can remain in power after his six-year term ends on Nov. 24.
"The sovereignty and integrity of Lebanon has been taken from it by Syria," said John C. Danforth, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The diplomatic initiative presented the Bush administration with an opportunity to counter charges by the Democrats that President Bush is incapable of repairing diplomatic relations with France and other key European allies who opposed the U.S. invasion in Iraq. Council diplomats said that national security adviser Condoleezza Rice has placed personal calls this week to foreign capitals to win support for the resolution.
In Lebanon last week, Lahoud's cabinet approved a constitutional amendment that would extend Lahoud's mandate by three years. And Lebanon's parliamentary speaker, Nabih Berri, called for a meeting Friday of the 128-member parliament to amend the constitution.
U.S. officials in New York have told council diplomats that they have lined up the nine votes needed to adopt the resolution. Danforth told the council behind closed doors Wednesday that he will press for a vote on the resolution Thursday.
But the United States and France faced tough questioning in the meeting from Pakistan, Algeria and other council members, which questioned the legal grounds for demanding Syria's withdrawal.
Pakistan's U.N. ambassador, Munir Akram, said, "There are problems, all kinds of problems" with the resolution. "This is a country that changes its constitution through its accepted processes. Has the council the right to comment on this?"
"The Lebanese government has the right to ask the Syrians to leave," he added. "I think it is for them to decide. There are many countries with foreign troops on the soil of other countries."
The resolution "demands that Syrian forces withdraw without delay from Lebanon." It also calls on Lebanon to disband and disarm all militias, including Hezbollah, and expressed "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."
Lebanon protested the diplomatic move Wednesday in a letter to the council, saying that it would "adversely affect" the country's elections and fuel the perception that the council is "a tool of intervention in Lebanon's internal affairs." He called on U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to use his influence to try to block the resolution's adoption.
Syria intervened in Lebanon in 1976, seeking to halt a bloody civil war that traumatized the former French colony. Damascus, which maintains a force of 20,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon, has exercised virtual control over Lebanon's political leaders since.
Syria's foreign minister, Farouk Sharaa, urged the foreign ministers of Algeria, China and Russia to oppose the resolution. The resolution "contradicts the United Nations' charter, which prohibits interfering in countries' internal affairs," he told Syria's official news agency, SANA.