updated 10/19/2004 5:48:57 PM ET 2004-10-19T21:48:57

The U.N. Security Council urged Syria on Tuesday to withdraw its remaining 14,000 troops from Lebanon and called for reports from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan every six months on its compliance.

The statement was aimed at keeping up the pressure on both Damascus and Beirut after the council passed a resolution last month seeking Syria’s withdrawal. The United States and Paris dropped a more strongly worded request that Annan monitor implementation of the resolution.

All 15 council members agreed on the presidential statement, which was read at a formal Security Council meeting by Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Adam Thomson, whose country holds the council presidency.

“We’re pleased because it’s unanimous,” U.S. Deputy Ambassador Anne Patterson said. “It’s a strong signal from all the members of the Security Council that this is a worldwide problem that will be reviewed every six months.”

“It will keep Syria’s feet to the fire on complying with the requirements of the resolution — and the requirements of the resolution ... are not to interfere in Lebanon’s internal political processes and to get the Syrian troops out of Lebanon. And those are important issues,” Patterson said.

Troops in Lebanon for 28 years
Syria sent troops in 1976 to help quell a civil war in Lebanon. They remained in the country through 14 years of fighting and are still there. Damascus is seen as pulling the strings in Lebanese politics, most recently in pressing for a constitutional amendment to allow a second term for Lebanon’s pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud.

The Security Council adopted a resolution Sept. 2 calling on Syria to pull all its troops from its smaller neighbor. Annan reported Oct. 1 that Syria had not withdrawn its forces and that Lebanon had failed to disband and disarm all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, as demanded by the council.

In the statement, the council “notes with concern that the requirements set out in [the Sept. 2] resolution have not been met” and “urges relevant parties to implement fully all provisions of this resolution.”

The two Islamic nations on the council, Algeria and Pakistan, reluctantly went along with the statement, which becomes part of the council’s record. Otherwise, the United States and France would have called for a vote on a resolution making the same demands. Resolutions, which are legally binding, need only nine “yes” votes and no veto by a permanent member.

During two weeks of difficult negotiations, Washington and Paris dropped a request that Annan monitor implementation of the resolution and agreed not to name Syria directly in the statement. They initially called for reports from Annan every three months but compromised on six months.

Syria opposed the council’s making any statement and setting any period for Annan to report on compliance. It maintains that Syrian forces are in Lebanon under an agreement between the two countries and have brought stability to the country.

Algeria’s U.N. ambassador, Abdallah Baali, said his government and Syria objected to periodic reports because the council did not show the same determination in following up on other Middle East issues.

Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Fayssal Mekdad, noted Friday that “the Syrian army is ... almost on the border now, so they are fictitiously bringing this issue to the council now.”

“It’s absolutely unacceptable,” he said. “They are doing it because they want to create problems in a region where there are no problems.”

Algeria points finger at Israel
While Annan’s Oct. 1 report said the only foreign forces in Lebanon were Syrian troops, Baali insisted that Israel still illegally occupied the disputed Chebaa Farms area near the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Israel.

“And so we believe that the Israelis also should withdraw from Lebanon,” Baali said.

The Chebaa Farms is uninhabited farmland on the foothills of Mount Hermon that Lebanon, backed by Syria, claims as its own. Israel captured the territory when its forces seized Syria’s Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war. The United Nations says that the region is Syrian and that Syria and Israel should negotiate its fate.

Asked whether the presidential statement would have any impact, Baali said, “We will see in six months what will happen, and I don’t think we can anticipate now.”

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