msnbc.com news services
updated 9/2/2004 9:00:26 PM ET 2004-09-03T01:00:26

The U.N. Security Council narrowly adopted a resolution Thursday telling Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon and warning against outside interference in Beirut’s presidential election.

The council voted 9-0 with six abstentions, the minimum vote possible, to approve the U.S.-drafted resolution after the United States and co-sponsor France agreed under pressure not to mention Syria by name, although it is the only country with foreign forces in Lebanon.

The resolution aims to head off a move in Lebanon’s parliament to amend the constitution and extend the term of Syrian-backed Lebanese President Emile Lahoud for three years after his current six-year term expires in November.

World powerSyria dominates Lebanon politically and has some 17,000 soldiers in the country after flooding Lebanon with its troops during the 1975-1990 civil war.

The United States and France, Lebanon’s former colonial ruler, introduced the draft resolution at a closed-door council meeting late Wednesday.

Passage would not be binding on Lebanon and Syria, but the draft included language calling on the Security Council “to consider additional measures,” which were not specified, if the Syrians and Lebanese did not comply.

Syria’s involvement in Lebanon dates to 1976, when it sent troops in to help quell a year-old civil war that ended up raging for 14 more years. Lebanon’s government has repeatedly said the presence of the Syrian army has been a stabilizing factor since the war ended in 1990.

The West tolerated Syria’s control and even credited it with securing stability. But since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Western nations have been calling for democracy to take hold in the Arab world as a way to fight extremism, and President Bush’s administration has repeatedly accused Syria of sponsoring terrorism.

‘Crude mockery of principle’
“We believe Lebanon should be allowed to determine its own future and assume control of its own territory. Yet the Lebanese people are still unable to exercise their rights as a free people to make those choices and to take those steps as a nation,” U.S. Ambassador John Danforth told the council.

“What the Lebanese people and we have witnessed over the past week in terms of Syrian actions is a crude mockery of this principle. It is clear that Lebanese parliamentarians have been pressured and even threatened by Syria and its agents to make them comply,” Danforth said.

A senior Lebanese official asked council members to withdraw the resolution, saying the U.N. body had never interfered in this manner in the internal affairs of a member-state.

Mohammed Issa, Lebanon’s secretary-general for foreign affairs, said Syrian troops were in the country at his government’s request to help rebuff “radical action emanating from Israel.”

Syria certainly did not need to leave when Israel was still on Lebanese territory, he said. But the United Nations decided in 2000 that Israel had withdrawn and that its troops in the Shaaba farms area were in Syria, not Lebanon, unless the two countries decided to change the border, which they have not.

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