PARIS (AFP) – Russia joined the leaders of France, Germany and Spain in an appeal for a rapid and “complete pullout” of all Syrian troops and intelligence forces from Lebanon, a joint declaration said.  In their statement the presidents of France and Russia, Jacques Chirac and Vladimir Putin , as well as Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero committed themselves to the implementation of UN resolution 1559 which calls for the full withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. The resolution was adopted in September last year. Putin’s agreement was important because of Moscow’s long-standing links with Damascus.

Russia is currently negotiating the sale to Syria of close-range air defense missiles in spite of US reservations.

Russian security commission chief Igor Ivanov said Monday Moscow was prepared to allow Israeli experts to check that the missiles pose no danger for the Jewish state’s security.

The four leaders, who held talks in Paris Friday on a series of international issues, also called for elections in Lebanon to be held “according to the planned calendar.”

Lebanon is expected to hold elections in May.

For the poll to go ahead under perfect circumstances, “a government capable of acting in the interest of all Lebanese must be formed rapidly”, they said.

The four also expressed their support for special UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen and the UN’s international fact-finding mission which is to shed light on the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

The Syrian army Thursday completed the first stage of a planned pullback from Lebanon ahead of schedule, with some 4,000 troops having returned home.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (newsweb sites), meanwhile, said he expects a complete withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon before the legislative election is held, according to his spokesman in New York, Fred Eckhard.

A senior Lebanese military officer said Syrian forces — troops and intelligence agents — had now abandoned positions in north Lebanon and in the mountains above Beirut and were for the most past concentrated in the eastern Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border.

He said the redeployment covered 8,000 troops, half of whom had crossed the border into Syria itself.

The account suggests that Syria has fulfilled a commitment made to the United Nations (newsweb sites) ahead of schedule.

Syria had an estimated 14,000 soldiers in Lebanon when the redeployment began on March 7.