Mon, Nov 05, 2007 - Page 6 News List

US and Syria spar over Lebanese presidential vote

AP , DAMASCUS

The US and Syria sparred over Lebanon, warning each other not to interfere in the country's upcoming presidential election.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had a rare meeting on Saturday with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, on the sidelines of a conference on Iraq in Istanbul, Turkey. She repeated US demands that Syria steer clear of Lebanon's internal politics.

``I made quite clear that ... it was expected that Syria was going to adhere to its international obligations not to interfere, to allow Lebanon to have a constitutional process for the ... election of a president, and that it was also the expectation of everyone that there would be no intimidation,'' Rice told reporters after leaving the conference.

In response, al-Moallem said Syria supported Lebanese attempts to elect a new president without foreign interference, according to the official news agency SANA.

Despite marathon discussions between pro-government and opposition leaders in the parliament, the two groups have made no headway in electing a new president to prevent a power vacuum or the formation of two rival administrations.

With time running out, the election has become a showdown between Iran and Syria, who back the opposition, and the US and its European allies, who support the parliamentary majority and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's government. The US accuses Syria and Iran of interfering in Lebanese affairs and backing attempts to topple Siniora.

Syria dominated its smaller neighbor for nearly 30 years before it was forced by international pressure to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in 2005.

Parliament is scheduled to make another attempt to elect a president next Monday, but as with the two previous attempts in September and last month, the government and the opposition have been unable to reach a compromise ahead of the session.

Failure to pick a leader to replace pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, whose term expires on Nov. 24, could throw the country into further political chaos.

SANA quoted al-Moallem as saying that "any attempt to tailor make the new president will be considered an interference in the domestic affairs of Lebanon," an apparent reference to comments Rice made on Thursday outlining US and European requirements for the next Lebanese leader.

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