Paris and Damascus fall out over Lebanon

20th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 20 (AFP) - France's co-sponsorship of a UN resolution ordering Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon reveals an accumulation of ill will between the two countries, analysts say.

PARIS, Oct 20 (AFP) - France's co-sponsorship of a UN resolution ordering Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon reveals an accumulation of ill will between the two countries, analysts say.

The UN Security Council's declaration Tuesday formally calling on Syria - without expressly naming the country - to abide by the September 2 resolution put forward by France and the United States underlined the general poor state of Paris-Damascus relations, they said.

Franco-Syrian ties "are stalled, after having strengthened over the past dozen years," one expert in the region said.

Last month's resolution demanded Syria withdraw its 16,000 troops from Lebanon, where they have been stationed since Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, and to stop its interference in Lebanese affairs. It followed Israel's military withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000.

The issue has riven Lebanon's political class. Four ministers have resigned after the parliament voted to extend by three years the mandate of President Emile Lahoud, an ally of Syria.

France's prominent role in facing off with Syria has created bitter recrimination in Damascus, where the official newspaper As-Sura accused Paris of "putting itself alongside US-Israeli pressure".

But a Lebanese political analyst, Kattar Abu Diab, said France's position came about because it "is disappointed with Syria, with unkept promises."

The arrival in power of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2000 nourished hopes of changes in Syria's policy in the region, "but nothing happened," Diab said.

Chirac - who was the sole European leader to attend the funeral of Assad's father and predecessor - received Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri last month and stressed he intended to see the UN resolution implemented so that Lebanon could regain full sovereignty.

One analyst said: "Chirac invested a lot in saving Lebanon's economy, but the trade-off - the fixing of the country's finances - never came about because of the Lebanese system, because of Syria."

Diab said that France's interest in seeing Lebanon take full control of its future was also based in part on wanting the French-speaking country to again become a Middle East player sympathetic to Paris's policies.

A former Lebanese finance minister, Georges Corm, put the strategy more bluntly in an interview last month with Le Monde newspaper.

"Has the colonial fever which has grabbed the United States and Great Britain with the Iraq invasion also taken over France, which, in an old historic reflex, does not want to lose its influence over Syria and Lebanon to the Anglo-Saxon duo?" he asked.

Another factor aggravating the rancour in Paris was Syria's decision in April to award a USD 700 million gas project to a consortium of British, Canadian and US companies, rejecting an offer by France's Total, an analyst noted.

A Lebanese businessman in Paris warned, however, that France's moves could backfire.

"If we annoy the Syrians, they are able to agitate the (militant group) Hezbollah, stir trouble in the Palestinian camps, and threaten the Lebanese status quo that was so tough to put in place" at the end of the civil war," he said.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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