Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir has demanded that a timetable be set for Syria’s military withdrawal from Lebanon, charging that Syrian army meddling in Lebanese domestic affairs was contributing to the country’s political and economic woes. The Maronite cardinal spoke in Paris after a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac at the Elysee, where he was afforded a red-carpet welcome. The patriarch and Chirac met for 45 minutes in private, then had an hour-long lunch at the Elysee.
Asked if he had discussed with the French president the Syrian military presence in Lebanon, he said they addressed all issues that concerned Lebanon, and was reassured by Chirac’s unwavering support.
He said a “timetable” for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon was needed, but added: “This would have to be set in Beirut, not here.” Sfeir said the Syrian military presence in itself “is not the problem. The real problem is the Syrian army meddling in internal affairs.” He cited the American military bases in Germany as one example of a foreign military presence that remains out of local politics.
As for Lebanese Forces commander Samir Geagea, Sfeir said this issue was another thorn in the side of national reconciliation in Lebanon. “Reconciliation has to involve everyone… It is not acceptable that someone is thrown in jail, when others occupy senior posts in the government,” he said. Sfeir refused to disclose his views on the upcoming presidential elections, saying it was “premature” to discuss the issue.