Lebanon's ambassador to Washington, Farid Abboud, who traveled to New York to observe part of the Republican National Convention, was on double duty this week in the back halls of the United Nations.
The U.N. Security Council voted Thursday night in favor of a resolution, sponsored by the United States and France, demanding that Syria pull its 20,000 troops out of Lebanon. The resolution also urges Syria to refrain from meddling in Lebanon's internal affairs -- specifically, in its November presidential elections.
The Syrian government, which dominates its smaller neighbor politically, especially in matters concerning Israel, security and strategic foreign policy decisions, has been lobbying heavily in Lebanon for a constitutional amendment to extend President Emile Lahoud's six-year term. The presidency is determined by a two-thirds majority in parliament.
Abboud, who has been ambassador here for six years and was appointed by Lahoud, worked feverishly with his U.N. counterpart to soften any threatening language directed at Syria in the resolution.
Religious leaders representing all major faiths in Lebanon -- Christian, Sunni Muslim and Druze -- have strongly condemned Syria's maneuvering, as has the country's democratic opposition.
Several Lebanese lawmakers, including Boutros Harb and Misbah Ahdab, were quoted in the national press as saying they had received anonymous threats by telephone and fax citing their opposition to the amendment. Deputy Nichola Fattoush, who has spoken out against an extension for Lahoud, attended a special meeting with other legislators from his central Lebanese region Monday, according to Lebanon's independent An Nahar daily newspaper, which gave examples of the climate of intimidation and fear.
The Lebanese cabinet approved a constitutional amendment last week, but the measure must be ratified by parliament. Parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri scheduled a session for Friday to vote on ratification.
In the 1990s, Lahoud, a former commander in chief of the Lebanese armed forces, was credited with unifying the military, which had fractured along religious lines.
As president, Lahoud has shown little independent political initiative, rubber-stamping Syria's foreign policy dictates and infringements on Lebanon's sovereignty. The policies include keeping the Iran-backed Islamic Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon fully armed rather than deploying Lebanese troops along the border with Israel, as required by the Taif accord. That agreement, hammered out in the summer of 1989 and brokered by Saudi Arabia and the United States, ended Lebanon's civil war.
In an interview while he was still armed forces commander, Lahoud said the Lebanese army was perfectly capable of securing its own borders, provided it was given a political green light in the form of Syrian backing. Lahoud's critics say he even stayed away from the funeral of King Hussein of Jordan in 1999 because he feared that Damascus would disapprove of a high-profile Lebanese presence among world leaders.
Lebanon, the only Arab country run by a Christian president, has a lively and outspoken press compared with its neighbors, as well as a long history as a democracy.
Four Lebanese deputies declared their candidacy for the presidency this summer to remind the public, especially the country's youth, that they could "reclaim their rights to have a choice," as one of them put it.
The American Task Force for Lebanon, a Washington-based group of prominent U.S. businessmen and former diplomats, said it supported the U.S. position against the extension and stood by its previous statements calling for a Lebanon free from foreign armies and interference.
One Arab diplomat in Washington said the Security Council vote would "deepen Lebanon's isolation, not only politically, but economically." The diplomat pointed out that France would likely refuse to host meetings of the Paris Club, an international organization of creditor nations, to reschedule Lebanon's burgeoning postwar debt and that the United Nations might not renew the mandate of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, deployed since 1978 in South Lebanon, which is up for renewal in five months
Here and Gone
Ronen Sen, India's newly appointed ambassador to Washington, presented his credentials at the State Department last month, in time to board a plane and attend the Republican National Convention in New York. Sen, 60, has served as ambassador in Mexico City, Moscow and Berlin and completed a tour as his country's high commissioner to the United Kingdom last April. He has held many positions in India's foreign service since 1966, including in the former Soviet Union, Bangladesh and in San Francisco. He has also been secretary to the Atomic Energy Commission of India.