But it was unclear how far the pullback would go to meet UN demands for a complete withdrawal.

  

A Lebanese minister on Friday said Syria was seeking "guarantees" from the international community before agreeing to a full pullout, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was satisfied the new proposals from Damascus "correspond" with UN Security Council Resolution 1559.

  

US President George Bush on Friday also reiterated Washington's position that nothing less than a complete withdrawal would suffice.

  

The Lebanese minister, who asked not be identified, said he expected al-Asad to unveil the new pullback in a keynote address to parliament on Saturday.

 

Guarantees sought

  

"We expect an announcement for a pullback into the Bekka [valley in eastern Lebanon] before the Arab summit" scheduled for 23 March in Algeria, the minister said.

Syria says it needs to have troops
in Lebanon to counter Israel

 

"The announcement for a complete withdrawal will depend on political consultations," he added.

 

"Syria wants guarantees, a sort of a roadmap, and wants consultations at the regional and international levels for the resumption of the peace process."

  

Syria has long argued that it needs to retain troops in Lebanon because of Israel's continued occupation of the Golan Heights, seized from Damascus in the 1967 Middle East war.

 

Negotiations

  

Negotiations for their return broke down in 2000, and despite Damascus abandoning all pre-conditions for renewed talks late last year, Israel has shown no interest in a fresh round of negotiations.

  

But Lavrov made no mention of any guarantees after being given a preview of Syria's plans by Deputy Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallim in Moscow.

  

"I am optimistic that this plan will be approved by all members of the UN Security Council"

Walid al-Muallim,
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister

"We are satisfied that the Syrian side plans to take steps that we understand will be announced soon ... which correspond with Resolution 1559" passed by the Security Council last September, Lavrov said.

  

His Syrian guest expressed hope that the plan would prove acceptable to the Security Council, including France and the United States, who co-sponsored the resolution and have spearheaded demands for its implementation.

  

"I brought with me a certain Syrian plan, I think that you will soon hear about this plan, about an agreement between Syria and Lebanon,"  al-Muallim said.

  

"I am optimistic that this plan will be approved by all members of the UN Security Council."