France's FM Plays down Criticism of Syria
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine on Sunday played down France's criticism of Syria's role in Lebanon ahead of a visit to Paris by Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara, Reuters reported Sunday.
Vedrine, in Amman for talks with Jordanian officials, said Defense Minister Alain Richard was “thinking aloud” when he expressed concerns that Syria was dragging its feet in peace talks with Israel because of its military presence in Lebanon.
“He (Richard) made this statement while reflecting on the reasons that led to the current deadlock in the peace process,” Vedrine told a news conference.
“He expressed the opinion that he fears that (this) logic is leading to the opposite of what everyone hoped peace would achieve...
“There is no need to build unwarranted interpretations on such thinking,” he said. “Let us concentrate our efforts on what is beneficial to peace, and that's what we are doing.”
Richard angered Beirut last week when he said he believed Syria did not want an accord with Israel on the Golan Heights if this meant having to pull Syrian troops out of Lebanon.
“What I fear, to speak very frankly, is that one of Syria's main assets is its domination over Lebanon,” Richard said in a French radio interview.
“Therefore any settlement that would lead to calling into question its domination over Lebanon, even if it means regaining (Syrian) territorial integrity, does not suit it,” he said.
Lebanese Prime Minister Selim al-Hoss summoned France's ambassador to his office and issued a statement saying he had told the French envoy that Richard was “interfering in internal affairs, which Lebanon did not accept.”
SHARA TO VISIT LEBANON BEFORE FRANCE TRIP
Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara will visit Beirut on Monday for talks with Lebanese leaders ahead of a trip to France, state television said on Sunday.
It said Shara would meet President Emile Lahoud and Prime Minister Selim al-Hoss. It gave no further details.
Shara, who is due to fly to Paris on Tuesday, is due to meet President Jacques Chirac for talks expected to focus on Israel's planned July pullout from south Lebanon.
Other topics were likely to be Syria's stance on its own 35,000 troops in Lebanon as well as its demand for Israel to return the Golan Heights captured in 1967.
France has criticised Syria's role in Lebanon but its Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine, on Sunday played down its concern ahead of Shara's visit.
SYRIANS ELIMINATE MORE ROAD BLOCKS IN LEBANON'S BEKAA VALLEY
Syrian forces stationed in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon Sunday removed two more of their checkpoints in the region, an AFP correspondent on the scene reported.
The roadblocks were at the entrances to the villages of Labwe, northeast of the provincial capital of Baalbek, and Brital, a stronghold of the Hizbollah guerrillas south of the city.
On Friday, six other Syrian checkpoints were deserted in the Bekaa Valley.
There are now only three Syrian army roadblocks left in the eastern district: one at the entrance of Baalbek, another in the city of Shtaura and a third at Mdeirej on the Beirut-Damascus road.
There was no clear reason for the removal of checkpoints.
During Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war the checkpoints were used to monitor people's movements closely, but since the war ended the checks have become much less rigorous.
The Lebanese army maintains its own checkpoints in the area.
Syria has an estimated 35,000 troops stationed in the country with the agreement of the Beirut government since 1976.
They are deployed in about three quarters of Lebanon, but do not venture further south than the port city of Sidon, 45 kilometers (27 miles) south of Beirut– (Agencies)
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