Russian FM Says Moscow Respects Lebanese Sovereignty

BEIRUT, Lebanon - In a veiled swipe at the United States and its allies, Russia's foreign minister said Sunday his country opposed a Security Council resolution demanding free presidential elections here and a Syrian troop withdrawal out of Moscow's respect for Lebanese sovereignty.

Sergey Lavrov made his comments after meeting Lebanese President Emile Lahoud in Beirut, marking his latest high level meeting during a Middle East tour that has included talks with the leaders of Egypt and Syria. He is expected to arrive in Israel later Sunday.

A deeply divided UN Security Council narrowly approved a resolution Thursday aimed at pressuring Lebanon to reject a second term for its pro-Syrian president and calling for an immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces - an indirect reference to Syrian troops.

The Syrian and Lebanese governments rejected the vote as "interference" in Lebanon's affairs. Syrian troops have been in Lebanon for 28 years and

Damascus is seen as pulling the strings in Lebanese politics and Damascus is seen as the main power broker here.

"As you know, we and five other countries registered our objection to this resolution," Lavrov said after meeting Lahoud, whose successful bid to have the country's constitution amended to remain in office three more years from November has been opposed by permanent Security Council members America and France.

The other Security Council members to abstain from voting on the resolution were China, Pakistan, Algeria, Brazil and the Philippines.

The resolution, introduced by the United States and France, was adopted with the minimum nine "yes" votes just hours before Lebanon's Parliament had been scheduled to vote to amend the constitution so Lahoud, a close friend of Damascus, could keep his job.

"Russia's position stems from its respect for the sovereignty of all the countries of the region and for each one of these countries to live in peace and security with its neighbors," Lavrov told reporters.

Lahoud thanked Lavrov for his country's position, saying Russia's abstention showed it "respects the sovereignty of Lebanon and Syria and refuses to interfere in issues that have to do with relations between the two brotherly countries and allies."

Lavrov said he and Lahoud also discussed the Arab-Israeli conflict and the situation in Iraq, plus held meetings with Lebanese foreign minister Jean Obeid and Premier Rafik Hariri.

Talks also focused on bilateral relations, the situation in the Middle East and Russian efforts to relaunch the peace process in the region, a statement issued by the premier's office said.