Petros Karadjias  /  AP
Anti-U.S. Lebanese protesters hold a poster caricaturing Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Aukar, northeast of Beirut, on Tuesday.
NBC News and news services
updated 3/22/2005 7:24:09 PM ET 2005-03-23T00:24:09

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday that Syria's president has agreed to present a firm timetable by early April for a full withdrawal of his country's troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon.

Annan met President Bashar Assad on the sidelines of an Arab summit in Algiers and said Assad confirmed his commitment to U.N. Resolution 1559, which called for a Syrian withdrawal.

"The withdrawal has begun, and it continues. He's working out a timetable in consultation with the Lebanese authorities and will withdraw his troops completely into Syrian territory. Not just the troops but also the security service, as well as all the logistical and material equipment to Syria," Annan told reporters.

Syria has pulled back its troops and intelligence agents into eastern Lebanon toward the border and has been promising to work out their complete removal with the pro-Syrian government in Beirut. But it has so far not given a timetable, despite mounting international pressure on it to get out of the nation it has dominated for years.

Timetable is key
Annan said Assad agreed a timetable would be ready in time for a visit to Damascus by a U.N. envoy in the first week of April. Annan said he expects the envoy to return with a "credible and well-defined timetable."

"We need to see all of them withdrawn, and President Assad has confirmed to me that that is his intention and he will implement 1559 in full," said Annan. "We are going to work with him to ensure that it is done."

Reacting to the news out of Algiers, U.S. State Department officials told NBC News that until a specific timetable is laid out, the problem remains unsolved.

"Until we hear that Syrian and military intelligence assets will be completely out of Lebanon prior to the May elections, this is still not fixed," said one official.

Syria has suggested previously that it would set the date for a full withdrawal at a meeting of Syrian and Lebanese officers scheduled for April 7.

In the pullback over recent weeks, Lebanese officials say 4,000 of Syria's 14,000 troops left Lebanon completely. The remainder are in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon.

Syria and Lebanon's pro-Syrian government both sought to ensure that the issue was not formally discussed at the Arab League summit. Neither country tabled a resolution on Syria's withdrawal, although it was discussed informally, said Abdelaziz Belkhadem, foreign minister of Algeria, the gathering's host.

The French foreign minister, Michel Barnier, did raise it at the summit, however, saying the withdrawal of Syrian troops and security officers must be total and rapid.

The United States, France and the United Nations have stepped up pressure on Syria to get out of Lebanon before legislative elections, expected to be held before the legislature's current term expired at the end of May. Key Arab states — Saudi Arabia and Egypt, in particular — have pressed Syria to comply.

Syria sent troops to its smaller neighbor in 1976, ostensibly to the keep the peace during a civil war. But they stayed on after the war ended in 1990, helping Syria keep a grip on Lebanese political affairs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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