[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 3 March, 2005, 14:00 GMT
Syria looks to Riyadh for support
Emir of Qatar during talks with President Assad
Syria needs friends as it faces US pressure over Lebanon
Syria's president is expected to visit Saudi Arabia on Thursday to try to dampen a political storm about the presence of Syrian forces in Lebanon.

Bashar al-Assad's visit - which has not yet been confirmed by officials - is part of a flurry of Arab diplomacy to defuse the crisis.

Arab foreign ministers in Cairo urged Damascus to stick to its long-running commitment to withdraw from Lebanon.

Syrian forces entered Lebanon in 1976 and helped stop the civil war in 1990.

Their presence was sanctioned by the 1989 Taif accord, although it stipulated Syria's withdrawal from most of the country within two years of the accord being passed by parliament.

Syria has failed to abide by this condition. In September 2004, it was ordered by UN Resolution 1559 to pull out from the country once and for all.

US allies

Mr Assad is scheduled to travel to Riyadh with his Foreign Minister, Farouk al-Shara, who was in Riyadh for consultations on Monday.

Protest in Beirut
Lebanese protests against Syria have been going on for weeks
The trip follows on the heels of a meeting in Damascus with the emir of Qatar.

Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar are key US allies in the region. Washington has spearheaded pressure on Syria to get it to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.

Mr Assad told Time magazine in an interview published this week that he might withdraw troops in a few months.

And an Arab diplomat in Egypt is quoted as saying that Syria wants to include resuming peace talks with Israel as part of any arrangement to withdraw troops from Lebanon.

"We have to contain, with all our capabilities, the existing big problems and to shift the current situation into a safer position," said Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa, after the Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo.

Fragile balance

Russia - Syria's main ally during the Cold War - and Germany have become the latest voices to call for Syria to leave Lebanon

"Syria should withdraw from Lebanon, but we all have to make sure that this withdrawal does not violate the very fragile balance which we still have in Lebanon, which is a very difficult country ethnically," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the BBC.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says Syria's relationship with Lebanon is complex, with history, strategy and economics all deeply intertwined.

But he says Mr Assad is feeling heat over the issue, while his regime's viability might even be questioned in Damascus if he "lost" Lebanon.

Pressure on Damascus spiked after the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri last month, who had recently joined Lebanese opposition politicians calling for a Syrian withdrawal. Syria has denied any part in his killing.

The government of Prime Minister Omar Karami resigned on Monday after two weeks of street protests over Hariri's death in a massive car bombing in Beirut.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific