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Security Seat For Syria

Syria, a country on the U.S. list of nations sponsoring terrorism, won a seat Monday on the prestigious 15-nation U.N. Security Council.

The vote for Syria was 160 votes among 178 members present in the U.N. General Assembly. The vote was by secret ballot.

Guinea and Cameroon, also running unopposed, received 173 and 172 votes respectively, for seats reserved for Africa. Bulgaria won 120 votes against 53 for Belarus for the Eastern European seat.

Mexico, in a run-off vote for the Latin American and Caribbean seat, beat the Dominican Republic by 138 to 40, thereby achieving the necessary two-thirds vote required.

Syria's candidacy has been assured since March when it ran unopposed as a member of the 50-nation Asia regional grouping. In the absence of a rival candidate from an Arab nation, there was little Washington could do to stop the election of Syria, which last served on the council in 1970-71.

Under U.N. practice an Arab nation gets a council seat each year, alternating between the African and the Asian group. No Middle East nation opposed Syria, which will replace Tunisia on the 15-member council in January.

Even before the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, diplomats said there was no action by the United States to find a challenger from another Arab nation, a near impossibility.

Since the attacks, Washington has bid for Syria's cooperation in its global campaign to fight terrorism, despite opposition from Israel and an appeal to President Bush from 38 members of the U.S. Congress last week.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel, a New York Democrat who collected 38 congressional signatures Friday in a letter to Bush, said allowing Syria to join the council would send "precisely the wrong signal to the international community at this critical time and would be counterproductive to America's efforts to put a halt to global terror."

Last year, the United States led a successful campaign for Mauritius to keep Sudan from winning a seat on the council, saying the African nation sponsored terrorism. That action drew support from African countries, angry for years at the Khartoum government's decades-old civil war and tolerance of slavery against the non-Islamic populations of the south.

The Security Council has five permanent members with veto power - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. Another 10 nonpermanent members rotate for two-year terms, five of them each year, according to geographical regions.

The five new members would replace Bangladesh, Jamaica, Mali, Tunisia and Ukraine in January. The other five nonpermanent members, whose terms expire at the end of 2002, are Norway, Ireland, Colombia, Singapore and Mauritius.

The Security Council is responsible for international peace and security, peacekeeping operations and can take decisions mandatory for all other nations, such as sanctions.

No nonpermanent member by itself, such as Syria, can block any action. But Syria's presencgives it access to all council deliberations, including a new British-led committee to enforce new counterterrorism measures.

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Yehuda Lancry called Syria's election "sheer absurdity and sheer nonsense" and a violation of the U.N. Charter, which says a candidate should make a contribution to peace and security.

"It fails even at the regional level to display any contribution to peace and security by its support for "terrorist" Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, where it has troops, " he said.

"Syria should withdraw from Lebanon, ensure an independent state of Lebanon, stop assisting Hizbollah and take real steps for peace towards Israel," Lancry told reporters.

But Saudi Arabia's U.N. ambassador, Fawzi Shobokshi, countered Monday that "Syria deserves to be a member of the Security Council ... because they represent a responsible government and the world's people, and play an important role in our part of the world."

In an editorial Monday, Syria's state-run Al-Baath newspaper said Syria wanted to join the council out of its "real concern to see the world enjoy peace and security on the basis of international legitimacy." It said that with the start of the air strikes against Afghanistan, there was "an increasing need for a voice that calls for the importance of consolidating peace, security and cooperation in this world."

Since Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 after 22 years of occupation, Syria and Lebanon insisted Israeli troops also leave the area known as Shebaa Farms, which it says is part of Lebanon. The United Nations says it belongs to Syria until both countries submit papers for changing the border.

In turn Syria's U.N. ambassador, Mikhail Wehbe, told the U.N. Assembly during a debate on counterterrorism last week that "occupation was the most savage form of terrorism, and so resisting this kind of occupation, including the Israeli occupation, is legitimate."

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