Monday, April 28, 2003

Liberating Lebanon
Ever so surreptitiously, the removal of Syrian forces from Lebanon is becoming a new rallying call in Washington for some conservatives and liberals alike. After Tom Friedman wrote an article on liberating Lebanon in his New York Times column a couple of weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal's Claudia Rosett did the same in the Weekly Standard, following up on an earlier piece she did for the WSJ's Opinion Journal.

Last weekend, Tom Lantos, the California Democrat Representative, traveled to Syria. Here are some of excerpts on the visit from an ABC News story:

"I told (Assad) that Syria's position in the U.S. dropped dramatically as we saw the transfer of military equipment from and through Syria to Iraq, and a large number of Syrian fighters joining a doomed and dying regime in Iraq," Lantos said.

"This was a very bad and historic mistake, and the time is long overdue to correct the course of Syria's policy," he added.


"We find that there should not be headquarters of [Palestinian] terrorist organizations in Damascus," he said. "These should be closed. ... Secondly, the ongoing support and supply of Hezbollah military activities through the airport in Damascus must end."


During his meeting with Assad, which Lantos described as "extremely candid and extremely cordial," the congressman also urged the Syrian leader to withdraw his country's soldiers from Lebanon.

Lantos said he would support sanctions against Syria if Damascus did not cut its ties to the Palestinian groups and cease supporting Hizbullah. This probably means pushing forward on votes in the House and Senate on the Syria Accountability Act, which, under certain conditions, imposes sanctions on Syria. For the highlights of the Act see here, and for its current status look here. Given the fact that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is on the record as calling the Syrian presence in Lebanon an "occupation", the wind seems to be slightly shifting away from the benign neglect of the past on matters Lebanese.

On the other hand, the U.S. still relies heavily on Syria to control Lebanon and Hizbullah, so one shouldn't expect very much. Old habits do die hard.

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