Assad: Withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon connected to Mideast peace process
The Syrian President, Bashar Assad was quoted Monday as saying his country's military presence in Lebanon is tied to the peace endeavors to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East. In interviews published by two Kuwaiti newspapers, he added he would not select Lebanon's next president but would support any head of state voted in by Parliament in Beirut.
Assad's comments came after declarations made by Presidents Bush and Chirac in Paris that Lebanon should have full freedom to make its own decisions as a sovereign and independent country.
"...We will support any president that comes through a consensus among the Lebanese, not that we will bring him in," Assad Al Rai Al Aam.
He also asserted that an extension for President Lahoud or an election of a new Lebanese president by next November is a decision to be made by the Lebanese, not by the Syrian president. "Extension or non-extension is an entirely Lebanese issue."
Assad admitted that Syria influences Lebanon's affairs. "Anyone who contends otherwise is a utopian. But attributing everything to us is an injustice. The decision on extension is Lebanese. It does not belong to the president of Syria," said Assad.
In the interview with Al Qabas, Assad said the 1989 Taif accord has been implemented through the numerous redeployments the Syrian army made in Lebanon.
"The Syrian army has withdrawn from vast areas in Lebanon. What's left of Syrian troops on Lebanese territory is a temporary presence agreed upon by Lebanon and Syria. It is related to the peace process," Assad said.
"We are no longer present in the Lebanese interior. There are no Syrian troops inside the Lebanese cities," the Syrian leader noted.
"We talk about a strong and independent Lebanon. We recognize its independence ... and we always concentrate on Lebanese sovereignty," he said.
Washingto has been pressing Damascus to withdraw from Lebanon and the US Congress has passed the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act, which calls on Syria to end the occupation of Lebanon. (Albawaba.com)
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