10 February 2005 The United Nations envoy seeking the withdrawal of foreign troops from Lebanon met today with President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, which has an estimated 14,000 troops on its smaller neighbour's soil.
"I think we are now engaged in a deep and cooperative partnership in the best interests of Lebanon and Syria," Terje Roed-Larsen, who yesterday met with top Lebanese leaders in Beirut, said of his first visit to the region in his new capacity.
He described today's meeting, at which he delivered a letter from Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as "extremely encouraging and constructive." Part of the meeting was also attended by Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara and the remainder was a tête-à-tête between Mr. Larsen and President Assad.
The UN envoy stressed that he had been encouraged by the many conversations he had had and by the working relationships he had established during the six days he spent in Syria and Lebanon.
Mr. Roed-Larsen, until last month UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, was named to his new post to implement Security Council resolution 1559, which was adopted in September and called for the withdrawal of all remaining foreign forces from Lebanon, disbanding all militias and extending Government control over the whole country.
In an initial report in October on the resolution, Mr. Annan said that aside from a UN peacekeeping force, the only significant foreign forces in Lebanon were Syrian. He said Syria indicated it had some 14,000 troops still inside Lebanon stationed near the border, and that it had redeployed about 3,000 other forces.
He reported that both governments said the timing of further withdrawals would be determined by the security situation in Lebanon and the region and they could not provide a schedule for such action.