The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution Thursday night demanding that all foreign forces in Lebanon, including 20,000 Syrian troops, "withdraw" and stop interfering in the country's electoral process.
The resolution narrowly passed in the 15-nation council by a vote of 9 to 0, with China, Russia, Pakistan, Algeria, the Philippines and Brazil abstaining. In order to secure support for the resolution, the United States on Thursday dropped any explicit reference to Syria in the resolution and removed a provision that threatened to consider unspecified "additional measures" against Syria if it failed to comply.
The move reflects concerns by Washington and Paris, which co-sponsored the resolution, that Syria is seeking to force Lebanese officials to rewrite their constitution to allow the pro-Syrian leader, President Emile Lahoud, to remain in power after his six-year term ends Nov. 24. Lebanon's cabinet last week approved a constitutional amendment that would extend Lahoud's mandate by three years, and the country's 128-member parliament is to meet Friday to endorse the move.
Speaking after the vote, John C. Danforth, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, accused Syria of pressuring and threatening Lebanon's political leaders to amend the constitution to meet Syria's demands. "We believe Lebanon should be allowed to determine its own future and assume control of its own territory, yet the Lebanese people are unable to exercise their rights as a free people."
But the diplomatic initiative faced intense resistance from several council members who said it seeks to undermine Lebanon's right to determine its political future. They also noted that Syrian forces are stationed in Lebanon under an agreement with the Lebanese authorities.
The resolution calls for the withdrawal of "all foreign forces" from Lebanon and for the "disbanding and disarmament" of all armed groups, including Hezbollah. It also declares the council's support for "free and fair electoral process in Lebanon's upcoming presidential elections conducted according to Lebanese constitutional rules devised without foreign interference or influence."
Syrian forces intervened in Lebanon in 1976 in an effort to quell a bloody civil war in the former French colony. But 14 years after the war ended, Syria continues to exercise virtual political control over Lebanon. Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Fayssal Mekdad, said his country has no intention of pulling out of Lebanon. "Syria is not a foreign force," he said. "I don't think the council means it."
Mohammed Issa, the secretary general of Lebanon's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, told the council the resolution constituted "interference in the internal affairs" of a U.N. member.