Sarkozy severs ties with Syria

Says no contact with Damascus it is willing to let Lebanon appoint president by consensus.

sarkozy mubarak 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
sarkozy mubarak 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Sunday that his country will hold no more discussions with Syria until Damascus shows its willingness to let Lebanon elect a new president. Lebanon's Western-backed government and pro-Syrian opposition have been unable to overcome their disagreements to follow through with the election, and many Western countries have accused Damascus of interfering in the process - a claim Syria denies. "I will not have any more contact with the Syrians until... we have received proof of Syria's intention to let Lebanon designate a president of consensus," said Sarkozy at a press conference in Cairo after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. France, Lebanon's former colonial ruler, has led the international effort to mediate between feuding Lebanese politicians and has consistently implored the Syrians to cooperate. The French president spoke with Syrian President Bashar Assad as recently as the beginning of December to urge him to "facilitate" the election in Lebanon. Sarkozy sent his chief of staff, Claude Gueant, to Damascus in early November, and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner met his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem earlier that month on the sidelines of an Iraq conference in Turkey. "France has taken the responsibility of talking with Syria," said Sarkozy. "One must recognize today that we cannot wait any longer, Syria must stop talking and now must act." Syria has denied meddling with the election and has accused the French of working too closely with the US, which Damascus claims is trying to manipulate the Lebanese political process for its own interests - an accusation Washington denies. Lebanon has been without a president since Nov. 23, when pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud stepped down without a successor. Opposition boycotts have thwarted attempts to choose a president by preventing a two-thirds quorum in parliament. Lawmakers on both sides have agreed to back Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman as a compromise candidate, but parliament must first amend the constitution to allow a sitting military chief to become president. That process has been complicated by the opposition's demand for a new unity government that would give it veto power over major decisions. The ruling coalition has accused the opposition of obstructing the presidential vote under orders from Syria and Iran. In turn, the opposition claims pro-government groups bend to the will of the US. Mubarak also called on Syria to push Lebanese politicians to follow through with the election, saying it was "illogical" for the country to go without a president for so long. "I ask Syria, with its influence, to intervene so that the parliament meets and elects a president," said Mubarak at the press conference. "I call on Syria to do so because it has more influence on the conflicting parties than the others." Syria effectively controlled Lebanon for almost three decades but was forced to withdraw its troops in 2005 after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.