03/03/2005, 00.00
SYRIA - LEBANON
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Russia and US press Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon

Diplomatic manoeuvres are underway in the Arab world. Syrian President Assad is expected in Saudi Arabia: Saudi-Egyptian pullout plan to be discussed.

Beirut (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Russia has asked its ally Syria to withdraw from Lebanon joining the international voices calling for a Syrian pullout from Lebanon.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov said that Syria should withdraw its troops from Lebanon but the move must be done cautiously.

Recently, the Kremlin had taken steps to boost its close ties to Syria, its only Mideast ally. It had also cast doubts on US assertions that Syria backed terrorism.

Lavrov's statement follows a string of pronouncements by Lebanon's political opposition and foreign governments, all demanding the implementation of UN Resolution 1559, which calls on Damascus to withdraw its 14,000 troops from the land of the Cedar.

Speaking yesterday, opposition leader Walid Jumblatt spoke of Lebanon's 'peaceful and democratic intifada' ushering in a new country and serving as an example for Arab peoples.

Also yesterday, US President George W. Bush demanded Syria get out of Lebanon, saying the free world agrees that Damascus's authority over the political affairs of its neighbour must end.

Bush's statement was echoed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said that it is important for Syria to realise that the international community expects certain obligations to be undertaken and adhered to. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder also added his voice to the chorus demanding Syria pull out.

Arab diplomacy is also active in trying to solve the crisis sparked by the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karami on February 28.

Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo in preparation for an Arab summit to be held later this month in Algiers; they focused on the international pressure on Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is expected today or tomorrow in Saudi Arabia to discuss the Lebanese crisis.

Diplomatic sources in Cairo said that Egypt and Saudi Arabia have come up with a joint proposal that would enable Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon.

Last Tuesday, President Assad had suggested that his country could pull its troops out in a "few months". (YH)

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