Syrian and pro-Syrian Lebanese officials have announced that Syrian forces will pull back to eastern Lebanon by the end of March. The announcement came in response to protests by thousands of Lebanese demanding an end to Syria interference in their country and the complete withdrawal of Syrian troops.
The protests began February 28th, two weeks after the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. Since then, the U.S. and France have issued a joint statement calling on Syria to withdraw from Lebanon. And Saudi Arabia has called on Syria to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution Fifteen-Fifty-Nine, which calls for “all foreign forces” to leave Lebanon.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that the Syrian plan for a phased troop pullback amounts to "a half measure" that does not go far enough:
"Security Council Resolution Fifteen Fifty-Nine was very clear - it said that all foreign forces need to leave Lebanon. The Lebanese people are demonstrating in the streets that they desire to live in sovereignty and independence, free from outside interference and free from outside intimidation. The international community is speaking very clearly to the government of Syria and saying, you need to withdraw completely and immediately, and comply with the U.N. resolution."
President George W. Bush says that the United States and Europe are "standing together with the Lebanese people":
"The United States and France worked closely to pass U.N. Security Council Resolution Fifteen Fifty-Nine. This resolution demands that Lebanon's sovereignty be respected, that all foreign forces be withdrawn, and that free and fair elections be conducted without foreign influence. The world is now speaking with one voice to ensure that democracy and freedom are given a chance to flourish in Lebanon. French President [Jacques] Chirac, British Prime Minister [Tony] Blair, and German Chancellor [Gerhard] Schroeder have all called on Syria to withdraw from Lebanon."
President Bush said a Syrian withdrawal of its military and intelligence personnel from Lebanon will help ensure that the upcoming Lebanese parliamentary elections will be free and fair.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.