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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 September, 2004, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
US tells Syria to leave Lebanon
Syrian soldiers guard a radar station in the Bekaa Valley
Syrian forces have been in Lebanon since 1976
A United States envoy has told Syria to pull its long-standing garrison out of Lebanon and stop intervening in its smaller neighbour's affairs.

Speaking after talks in Damascus, William Burns also called on Syria to sever ties with Islamist militants.

Syria has 15,000 troops in Lebanon and allegedly backs the Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah.

The US imposed trade sanctions on Syria this year over these alleged ties and weapons programmes.

If Syria takes action on these concerns, our relationship can take a very different course with positive results
William Burns

Mr Burns also raised concern over Syria's perceived failure to prevent anti-US militants entering Iraq via its border.

The BBC's Kim Ghattas reports from Damascus that Mr Burns is the first senior US envoy to visit Syria in a year and the trip comes when relations are at an all-time low.

UN demand

Speaking after talks with President Bashar al-Assad, the envoy held out the possibility that relations could be improved if Damascus met Washington's wishes.

US envoy to the Middle East William Burns
Burns issued his demand after meeting the Syrian leader
"If Syria takes action on these concerns, our relationship can take a very different course with positive results," he said.

But he stressed that America expected Syria to withdraw from Lebanon in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, which was sponsored by the US and French and passed last week.

"Syria must end its interference in Lebanese internal affairs, withdraw its forces from Lebanon and allow the Lebanese armed forces and government to establish their authority throughout Lebanon ," Mr Burns said.

"The time has come for concrete steps... We stress that what is essential now is genuine progress not rhetoric."

No Syrian comment on his statement was immediately available.


SEE ALSO:
Syria feels squeeze over Lebanon
05 Sep 04  |  Middle East
UN backs Lebanon sovereignty call
03 Sep 04  |  Middle East
Country profile: Lebanon
09 Jul 04  |  Country profiles


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