Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Against Backdrop of Killings in Gaza and Darfur, U.S. and France Focus on Lebanon

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Against Backdrop of Killings in Gaza and Darfur, U.S. and France Focus on Lebanon

Article excerpt

Faced with the continuing crisis in Darfur, where U. N. officials are reporting thousands of deaths a month, and Ariel Sharon's murderous rampage through the refugee camps of Gaza, in October the French and the Americans promptly decided to deal with-Lebanon.

Mandated by Resolution 1559, which had scraped by with a mere nine votes for, and six abstentions, secretary-General Kofi Annan reported that there were indeed still Syrian troops in Lebanon, and that the Lebanese parliament had indeed changed its constitution to allow President Emile Lahoud an extra half-term. The security Council resolution had called upon all foreign troops to get out of Lebanon, without naming who they were, and opposed any changes in the constitution, without naming what they were.

Following Annan's report, France and the U.S. had presented a draft resolution which threatened to keep tabs on the situation and suggested that the still un-named occupiers move out. After several days of bickering and haggling, they achieved a consensual presidential statement asking Annan to report back every six months.

This was outstanding because, even if only directly, it mentioned the Syrians, by "taking note" of a communication from Damascus:

"The Council notes with concern that the requirements set out in Resolution 1559 (2004) have not been met, as reported by the secretary-general. The Council urges relevant parties to implement fully all provisions of this resolution, and welcomes the secretary-general's readiness to assist the parties in this regard.

"The Security Council appreciates the secretary-general's intention to keep the Council updated. It requests that he continue to report on the implementation of the resolution to the Council every six months."

Presidential statements are not decisions, and have little or no status in international law. By keeping the item on the agenda, however, it leaves space open for a new administration in Washington to start pushing again. Indeed the U.S. already is gearing up for action with calls from Congress for asset freezes on the holdings of both Syrian and Lebanese officials under the so-called "Syria Accountability Act." Given the events of the last few years, however, any Arab official who has money in the U.S. probably deserves to lose it for stupidity.

Where were the resolutions from Washington when it was the Israelis occupying half of Lebanon?

The noises from Washington add to the perplexity about what France is up to. Cynics may also wonder if the Republican National Committee has had any recent large donations from Lebanese Americans, of the type that Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri is alleged to have made to Chirac in the past. Hariri's resignation in October did lend some credence to current rumors that it was his discrete request to President Jacques Chirac that had moved the French to push the issue.

Even Syria's best friends admit that its customarily maladroit diplomacy once again had let it down. "There are lots of Maronites around, why couldn't they just get one off the street!" asked one cynical Arab ambassador, wondering at Damascus' attachment to Lahoud.

The draft resolution did not suggest any alternatives. While many Lebanese resent the Syrians and would like them to leave, they may actually wish for some post-departure international guarantees for Lebanese security. Ordering the Lebanese government not to bend its own constitution, for example, implies that the international community does not recognize the current government in Beirut as representative of the nation. Who is, then? Where were the resolutions from Washington when it was the Israelis occupying half of Lebanon? On whose behalf are France and the U.S. asking the international community to act?

UNRWA

There was little surprise that the Israelis grudgingly withdrew their accusations that an UNRWA ambulance crew in Gaza had carried Qassim missiles. …

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