"The secretary-general never set an April deadline for a withdrawal nor did he support sanctions if the pullout didn't happen by then," spokesman Fred Eckhard said on Thursday, providing a partial transcript of the network's Annan interview.

 

In the unofficial transcript of the interview, to be broadcast on Friday, Annan said he would report to the Security Council by April on Syria's compliance with a council resolution demanding the Syrian withdrawal.

 

"If it's partial withdrawal, I will have to report. If it's total withdrawal, I will have to report," Annan said, adding that it would be up to the council to impose any sanctions.

 

Additional measures

 

"I would urge them to do everything possible to comply so that I can report to the council that they have satisfactorily performed and therefore we wouldn't need to go for additional measures," Annan said.

 

"But of course, if they do not perform, the council may wish to take additional measures," the UN chief said.

 

"If they sense that the resolution is not being implemented and they want to take additional measures, it would be up to them," Annan said, according to the transcript.

 

The Dubai-based network had earlier reported that Annan had called on Lebanon to pull its troops out by April or face sanctions from the 15-nation council.

 

Lebanese officials on Thursday said that Syria, under increasing international pressure over its military and political dominance in its smaller neighbour, was preparing to redeploy its forces in the country.

 

With about 14,000 troops on the ground, Syria is the main powerbroker in Lebanon and backs the Beirut government.

 

But Damascus has been in the spotlight since the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, who stepped down last year in opposition to Syria's continuing dominance of the country.