Cardinal Nasr Allah Butrus Sfair also said after talks with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Annan would dispatch international observers to monitor Lebanon's May parliamentary elections, to ensure they were free and fair.

But UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said that while the world body wanted monitors in Lebanon, there was not yet an agreement to let them in.

"This is clearly my opinion and this is a part of my dialogue with the parties," Roed-Larsen said in an interview on National Public Radio's All Things Considered show.

"I have a continued dialogue with them which is not yet concluded," he said when asked if that meant the parties were resisting the idea of observers.

Bush meeting

Annan has asked Roed-Larsen to press for enforcement of a resolution, drafted by France and the United States, that calls on Syria to withdraw all its forces from Lebanon.

The resolution, adopted by the Security Council in November, also seeks the disarmament of all Lebanese militias such as Hizb Allah.

Sfair said Hizb Allah could
become a political party

Sfair was in New York a day after talks with US President George Bush in Washington. His US visit was intended to press the case for Syria's pullout from Lebanon.

Sfair said Bush assured him at the White House "he would follow the Lebanese situation very, very closely to make sure that Lebanon regains its independence and freedom."

As for Hizb Allah, it was "a Lebanese party that was behind the liberation of southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation," he said.

"But now that this has been accomplished, there is no reason for Hizb Allah to still have arms."

Shebaa Farms dispute

While Lebanon and Syria argue Israel has not fully withdrawn from Lebanon, citing the contested Shebaa Farms area, this dispute should be settled by talks among Lebanon, Syria and Israel, with UN help, Sfair said.

Syria and Lebanon say the Shebaa Farms area is a part of Lebanon, but a UN-drawn border puts the area in Israeli-occupied Syria.

"Hizb Allah could become a political party, and it already has a few deputies in the Lebanese parliament. It could continue to provide the humanitarian aid that it now offers to the benefit of this population," Sfair said.