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Thread: Syria Ignores Bush's Demands

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    Syria Ignores Bush's Demands

    Syria Plans Two-Stage Lebanese Pullback

    By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Writer

    DAMASCUS, Syria - President Bashar Assad on Saturday announced a two-stage pullback of Syrian forces to the Lebanese border failed to address broad international demands that he completely withdraw Syria's 15,000 troops after nearly 30 years in the country.

    Assad also did not respond to President Bush's demand just a day earlier that Syria have all its troops and intelligence agents out of Lebanon before its parliamentary elections in May.

    Instead, Assad said his plan would put Syria in full compliance with international agreements and U.N. demands.

    "By carrying out this measure, Syria will have fulfilled requirements of the Taif agreement and implemented U.N. Resolution 1559," the Syrian leader said in a rare address to parliament.

    Assad was vague about the pullback, leaving it unclear if Syrian forces would eventually leave Lebanon or be kept inside the country near the Syrian frontier. He said Syrian and Lebanese authorities would negotiate this week.

    Later Saturday, however, Syrian Immigrant Affairs Minister Buthaina Shaaban told Lebanese Broadcast Corp. television withdrawal would be complete. "The matter is very clear. When an army withdraws it withdraws to inside the country's border."

    The United States issued strong statement of dissatisfaction.

    "President Assad's announcement is not enough," the State Department said in a statement hours after he made the pledge in a speech to parliament.

    "As President Bush said Friday, when the United States and France say withdraw, we mean complete withdrawal - no halfhearted measures," the statement said.

    France, which co-authored with Washington a U.N. resolution demanding Syrian withdrawal, stood by its demands for a complete pullout.

    "We note the announcement by the president of the Syrian republic of his decision to apply" the resolution, the French Foreign Ministry said. "We, therefore, expect him to fully withdraw his troops and services from Lebanon as soon as possible."

    Outside Damascus' People's Assembly, thousands of Syrians watching the speech on large screens chanted pro-Assad slogans and waved the country's red, white and black flags.

    "Oh God Almighty, safeguard Bashar our leader!" and "One, one, one, Syrian and Lebanon are one!" and "Bush, Bush, listen, the Syrian people will not bow," the group cried out in unison.

    In Beirut, about 1,000 Lebanese also watching the speech on large outdoor screens in Martyrs' Square seemed unconvinced by Assad's words. Waving Lebanese flags, they continued the chants they have shouted in weeks of demonstrations: "Syria out!" and other anti-Syrian slogans.

    Some Lebanese opposition leaders complained that Assad had not made clear what he planned and charged that he set no timetable for the troop movement.

    One of them, Michel Aoun, spoke to Al-Arabiya television from exile in Paris, saying Assad's words were "very carefully studied."

    "The Syrian army should withdraw to the inside of Syrian territories, not to the border," Aoun said. "I call on the Lebanese to be very careful about the wording and not to be happy over the general meaning."

    But Walid Jumblatt, a prominent opposition figure, was conciliatory.

    He told LBC there were positive elements in the speech, adding it offered "a new vision" in dealing with Lebanese-Syrian relations. "Before casting doubt, let's see the implementation on the ground."

    Assad's speech also came at the end of a week of upheaval and Arab pressure, beginning with the resignation of Lebanon's pro-Syria government and ending with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah telling the Syrian leader to his face that he must remove all his forces out of Lebanon quickly.

    In declaring Syria now in compliance with international agreements and demands, Assad was referring to the 1989 Arab-brokered Taif Accord called for Syria to move its troops to the Lebanese border and for both countries to then negotiate the withdrawal.

    Also on the books is a U.N. resolution, drafted by the United States and France in September, that demands that Syria to withdraw its forces, stop influencing Lebanese politics and allow the country to hold presidential elections as scheduled.

    Lebanon has been engulfed by political turmoil since the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut, which many in Lebanon blame on the Lebanese government and its Syrian backers. Both the Beirut government and Syria deny involvement.

    Hariri, 60, resigned last year amid opposition to a Syrian-backed constitutional amendment that enabled his rival, President Emile Lahoud, to extend his term in office.

    Syria has kept troops in Lebanon since 1976, when they were sent as peacekeepers during that country's 1975-1990 civil war. When the war ended, the troops remained and Damascus continued to wield decisive influence with Lebanese officials.

    In the carefully worded address, Assad said, "We would not stay one day if there was Lebanese consensus on the departure of Syria," failing to state that Damascus wields decisive influence with Lebanese officials.

    "We will withdraw our forces stationed in Lebanon fully to the Bekaa region (in the east) and later to the Lebanese-Syrian border areas," he said to cheers from legislators in the chamber and from thousands of Syrian supporters listening outside the building.

    Early in the hourlong speech, he said he would pull troops out if there was Lebanese consensus on the issue, apparently sidestepping the prospect of a full withdrawal.

    "We will not stay one day if there was Lebanese consensus on the departure of Syria," he told parliament. "Syria should not be a subject of dispute."

    Assad said that in the last few years Syria has pulled out 60 percent of its forces "voluntarily based upon Syrian will and desire without any pressure."

    The Lebanese people are sharply divided over the presence of Syria's soldiers. Massive protests in past weeks have demanded Syria's withdrawal and led to the resignation of the pro-Syrian government last week.

    Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG


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    Remember, Iran and Syria have formed an alliance against the United States. We may be going to war with both of them.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG


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