US calls for a total Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon
The United States said Syria doesn't comply at all with the United Nations Security Council resolution 1559 which calls for the withdraw of foreign troops from Lebanon and disarmament of the militias, warning of taking new measures and possibly new sanctions on Syria, a senior US official said.
In an exclusive interview with Almustaqbal newspaper, the US State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said “Syria’s record on 1559 is not very good. Syria says that it has withdrawn some troops from Lebanon, but we, along with the international society, want all troops to withdraw”. “The U.S. feels that it is time for the Lebanese people to enjoy full sovereignty and that includes the removal of foreign troops and the end of the militias presence”, in a signal of Hizbullah’s military presence in South Lebanon.
The American official said “The United States has a number of concerns about the Syrian behavior and the assistant secretary for Near East William Burns expressed our concerns to the Syrian president during his visit to Damascus on September 11th following the issuance of the UNSC resolution 1559”. “There are many who feel that the U.S. has cut a deal with Syria. To those I say: Bargaining with Syria is simply not the case”, indicating that
In another interview with Almustaqbal, the US State Department spokesman Gregory Sullivan said Syria’s involvement in Lebanon was at “an unacceptable level”. He said Syria’s continued efforts to influence the political environment in Lebanon and the continued presence of Syrian troops there was still a “concern” that the “next Bush administration” would likely “focus on more”. Sullivan accused Syria of “supporting and harboring terrorist groups” and hosting “terrorist camps inside Syria that have not only been used to [commit] terrorist acts inside the Palestinian Territories and Israel, but there is some evidence they have been used to conduct violence inside Iraq”. He also mentioned Syria’s inability to control its border with Iraq as a major concern in Washington. Sullivan said it was “important” for Syria to start showing its willingness to take concrete actions to solve some of these issues before the State Department delivers its report to Congress on June 2005, as an annual review of the Syrian compliance with the Syria Accountability Act. He added that the report will not be positive at all, and that it will probably include new measures and possibly new sanctions on Syria, as downgrading the diplomatic relations with Damascus and/or imposing financial sanctions on the transactions on Syrian banks and entities.
Sullivan said US officials had had some discussions with Syria regarding cooperation in controlling the Syrian-Iraqi border, and that the report would take that into account. “There have been some diplomatic initiatives between us and Syria for the past month and a half that would be reflected in the report and that helps a little. But […] we still feel that the Syrian role in Lebanon is not appropriate and undermines the interests and the aspirations of the Lebanese people. So, I expect that would become more than issue in the second mandate of president Bush”, he added.
The US senior official said “the first step for Hizbullah is to dissolve his militia and end his support for terrorism. Hizbullah knows what it needs to do to accommodate with our views”. He added that his government has not yet any approach to deal with Hizbullah when it dissolve its militia and become into a full political party. But Sullivan said that the situation would change if the Syrian government began taking an active role against the Hizbullah militant group in Lebanon, which the US have listed as a terrorist organization.
Sullivan said for now that there was evidence Hizbullah was receiving logistical assistance from the Syrian government in getting supplies from Iran. He suggested that Syria had already had plenty of time to prove that its presence inside Lebanon was designated to eliminate the spread of Hizbullah influence. Sullivan said there was “no way to engage with Hizbullah, no way we can have discussions with this group, no way we can view it as a positive force in South Lebanon, because they have committed violent acts against Israeli civilians”. “We recognize that Hizbullah has an economic and social influence in Lebanon, they have representatives inside the Lebanese parliament. If they would get out of the terrorism business, that might be a reason to take a look towards Hizbullah and how they do that. Sullivan said Hizbullah had earned a lot of legitimacy and support before the Israelis withdrew from Lebanon, because they were viewed as a force fighting the Israeli occupation in the south. “But after the Israeli withdrawal, Hizbullah was not satisfied with just maintaining its presence in the south of Lebanon, and there has been an extension of Hizbullah influence inside the Palestinian territories, there has been proof of its involvement in the violence against Israel,” he said. There was evidence that Hizbullah helped the Palestinians in the launch of Qassam 2 rockets”, he added.