Faced with mounting international pressure and Lebanese popular protests, Syria has completed the first stage of a two-phase plan to pull all its troops and intelligence officials out of neighboring Lebanon, which it has dominated for three decades.
"We will withdraw from Lebanon as soon as possible, the sooner the better. And we are not talking of two or three months. We will do this very, very quickly," Syria's envoy Imad Mustafa said in a speech at Georgetown University.
"I hope this will inspire other countries in the Middle East to withdraw their occupations from Iraq and from Palestine and from Syria itself," he said.
"President Bush has many times spoken about making Iraq a model that will inspire the whole Arab world ... I think the Arab people will love to see this Syrian model followed by the Americans and the Israelis."
Mustafa said a Lebanese-Syrian committee meeting in early April would set the exact timetable for the final withdrawal.
The Syrian ambassador was critical of US policies throughout his speech, saying many were hypocritical or dictated by Israel.
He also took a dig at the United States' detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"I do not feel proud that Syria has political detainees just like you have in Guantanamo Bay, people who don't know what are they charged of, when will they ever be released, if they will be tried, and if they have access to their attorneys," he said.
"I hope this will inspire other countries in the Middle East to withdraw their occupations from Iraq and from Palestine and from Syria itself"
Syrian ambassador to US
"Our plans are by June 2005 not to have a single political prisoner in Syria. We want to make anything similar to your Guantanamo Bay a part of our past," Moustapha said.
Despite his barbs, the ambassador also made clear his country was eager to improve its relations with the United States and hoped Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon would be a step in that direction.
"We hope that once this chapter ends ... we can find common ground with the United States, because Syria has a desire to engage positively with the United States. We do not consider Syria an enemy to the United States. And we do not want to be regarded as an enemy by the United States," he said.