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Syria Under Pressure To Cooperate with Hariri Murder Probe


The United States and France are pushing for a strong U.N. Security Council response to a report alleging high-level Syrian involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Council is holding urgent consultations as it prepares for a briefing from the chief investigator on the case.

Washington's U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, walked into the Security Council chamber Monday morning saying Syria must be pushed to cooperate with the Hariri assassination probe. "This is true confessions time now for the government of Syria. No more obstruction, no more half measures, we want substantive cooperation and we want it immediately," he said.

U.S. and French diplomats are backing what is said to be a strongly worded resolution criticizing Syria's alleged involvement in the Hariri assassination. U.S. officials want a ministerial-level Security Council meeting to be held next Monday to consider action, and say Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has already included the meeting in her schedule.

The report issued last Friday by U.N.-appointed investigator Detlev Mehlis concluded that the bomb blast that killed Mr. Hariri could not have been organized without high-level official Syrian involvement.

One version of the report that was accidentally sent to some reporters named a brother and brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as being present at a meeting where the assassination was planned. The report also charged that Syria's foreign minister, Farouk al Sharaa, had tried to mislead investigators.

Ambassador Bolton said he expects the Security Council to keep up the pressure on Damascus. "I think there's a very high degree of unity, of purpose, in the consultations we've had so far, to insist that, in particular, the government of Syria fully cooperate with the Mehlis Commission and not continue to obstruct the work of the Commission, and so we'll be looking to see how to maintain that pressure," he said.

Several European ambassadors on the Security Council made similarly strong statements, but the push for immediate action was far from unanimous. Some key Council members, such as Russian envoy Andrei Denisov urged a more cautious approach, signaling that consensus might be difficult to achieve. "My government is always very cautious with such sensitive issues as Syria/Lebanon," he said.

The chief investigator, Mr. Mehlis, is due to brief the Council Tuesday concerning his investigation. But despite his damning evidence of Syrian involvement in the Hariri killing, European diplomats Monday said it is still too early to talk about sanctions against Damascus.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan Friday extended the Mehlis Commission's work until mid-December. Speaking to reporters Monday, Mr. Annan said he would withhold judgment until the investigation is complete. "In my previous comment, I indicated that I felt that we are at the beginning of a process, not at the end. The investigator has done his work and his work is continuing. Then the magistrates and the judges will have to do theirs. And so, we have some way to go yet," he said.

Mr. Annan said he was planning to raise the issue of Syria's cooperation with investigators during a meeting Tuesday with Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa. But U.N. officials later said the Syrian official was not coming to New York, and the meeting would not be held.

Syria has repeatedly denied any involvement in the February bomb blast that killed Mr. Hariri and 20 others. Syrian officials Friday rejected the findings of the Mehlis Commission, calling them "politically motivated lies."

In the report, Mr. Mehlis said completion of his investigation depends on the full cooperation of Syrian officials. He complained that Syria's failure to cooperate had impeded his work, making it impossible to follow leads established by the evidence.

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