Senior Official: Syria Denies Meeting with Lebanon on Troop Redeployment
A high-ranking Syrian official denied that Damascus and Beirut planned meetings to discuss the controversial issue of a redeployment of Syrian troops in neighboring Lebanon.
"I can confirm that there is no decision or agreement about this issue," the senior official who did not wish to be identified said in an interview with the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.
"There have been no discussions about any meeting of the Syrian and Lebanese leaderships" he said, referring to Lebanese parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, who had announced on Friday that such a meeting would be held "very soon."
After talks on Friday with Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, patriarch of Lebanon's sizeable Maronite Christian minority and a strong critic of Syria's domination of Lebanese affairs, Berri said Syrian troops had begun the long-awaited redeployment in April and would continue it "very soon."
The Syrian official said "when an issue like this is discussed, it is done with (Lebanese) President Emile Lahoud."
He said Berri, one of Syria's staunchest allies in Lebanon, was not speaking on Damascus' behalf, but for himself personally, and warned that anybody attempting to speak for Syria would be "very far from the truth."
"Berri for his own motives and Syria has no relation with the issue and Syria did not commission him to transmit any message," he said.
"Anyone who claims to be speaking in the name of Syria is speaking for himself and will be very far from the truth. Syria is not incapable of spelling out its ideas directly," he said.
"Berri's declarations were personal, even if he is the parliament speaker. The parliament did not give him such a mission ... neither did the president of the republic, as far as we know," he said.
Asked if Berri's move was a mediation between Syria and the Christian community in Lebanon, the Syrian official said: "Syria does not need mediations because it is not in conflict with any of the Lebanese parties."
"Syria always tries to remain on good terms with everybody and whoever considers himself not on good terms, then it is his problem. In any case, dialogue is only with the state and not with spiritual leaders," he said.
The redeployment of the 35,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon was envisioned in the 1989 Taef agreement, which brought an end to Lebanon's 15-year-long civil war in 1990.
The accord stipulated that, two years after Lebanon formed a national government, including an elected president and a constitution, Syrian troops were to be stationed only in the eastern Bekaa Valley and at other points decided upon jointly by the Lebanese and Syrian governments.
The accord also called for an agreement to settle on the size and duration of the Syrian military presence in Lebanon, but none of these issues has been resolved -- BEIRUT (AFP)
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