Syrian president, Annan discuss Lebanon

Associated Press
Date: 11-18-06

DAMASCUS, Syria - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke with Syrian President Bashar Assad by telephone Saturday to discuss political developments in Lebanon and Iraq.

U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe, who was traveling with Annan in Switzerland, said he discussed developments in Lebanon with Assad and with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Annan told the two leaders that countries in the region needed to promote the stability and unity of Lebanon, she said.

The conversation came two days before the U.N. Security Council is expected to discuss a draft agreement between the U.N. and the Lebanese government to establish an international tribunal to prosecute the suspected killers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hariri was killed with 22 others in a suicide truck bombing in February 2005. The assassination sparked huge protests against Syria, which was widely seen as culpable. Syria denied involvement but was forced under heavy international pressure to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in April 2005, ending a 29-year domination of the neighboring country.

Lebanon's government approved the U.N. plan for a Hariri tribunal. But Annan said he had received a copy of observations on the draft agreement made by Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, including a challenge to the Cabinet's decision.

Syria's opponents in Lebanon, particularly the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, have accused Damascus of seeking to scuttle the formation of an international tribunal to try Hariri's suspected killers.

Annan said in a report released Thursday that the U.N. and the Lebanese government agreed that the tribunal would have a majority of international judges, an international prosecutor and be located outside Lebanon. Annan told the Security Council that having more international than Lebanese judges in the mixed tribunal would help ensure its independence.

The Syrian news agency SANA reported that the conversation between Assad and Annan took place but gave no further details.


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