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Diplomatic Pressure Mounts on Syria to Cooperate in Hariri Assassination Probe


The head of a U.N. probe into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is urging Syria to cooperate more fully with his investigation. Diplomatic pressure is mounting on Damascus to be more forthcoming with investigators.

German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis says his investigation into the Hariri assassination is stymied by Syria's lack of cooperation. Briefing the U.N. Security Council Tuesday, Mr. Mehlis suggested Syria might want to carry out its own investigation to "fill in the gaps," so his commission could have a better understanding of who was behind the killing.

In a preliminary report last week, the prosecutor outlined a complex assassination plot. He concluded the February 14 bomb attack that killed the former Lebanese prime minister could not have been organized and carried out without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials, and the collusion of their counterparts in Lebanon.

Mr. Mehlis told reporters Tuesday he does not know how to proceed unless Syria grants him greater freedom to interview witnesses.

"We haven't yet decided how this investigation should go on concerning Syria, because the way it went doesn't make much sense for us," he noted. "Even if we ask for witnesses to be interviewed outside Lebanon, which at the present situation is that Syrian authorities do not agree to it, that is the last we have heard. If they would offer to come up with a different way how to deal with it, we'd have to think about it, but as of now the Syrian answer to our request is that this, for legal reasons, this cannot be done."

Mr. Mehlis also asked for increased security for his investigators. He noted that his team had received several threats, and said he expects more now that his findings have been made public.

At Tuesday's Security Council meeting Syria's U.N. ambassador, Fayssal Mekdad, launched a blistering attack on the Mehlis probe. Speaking through an interpreter, the Syrian envoy dismissed the Mehlis Commission's findings and charged that Damascus is being unfairly singled out, despite what he called "a lack of credible evidence" of Syria's involvement in the assassination.

"Some quarters, either on the basis of a suspect premeditated scheme or out of bad faith have used this crime in a despicable manner in order to fan the flames of hostility against Syria and increase accusations against it," said Mr. Mekdad. "Isn't it indeed bizarre that each and every crime could have a number of possibilities about who might have perpetrated it, except for this particular crime, where unfortunately there is only one possibility, and that is accusing Syria of having committed it."

France and the United States are pushing ahead with their campaign to increase diplomatic pressure on Syria. U.S. envoy John Bolton told reporters Tuesday that a resolution being prepared for Council action is intended as a "strong signal to Damascus that its obstructionism must cease immediately."

"It's very important to listen to what the other members of the Security Council say, and we will be producing a joint French-American resolution as soon as we can. It is a matter of moving urgently, but we want to do it deliberately and prudently and with broad support, which we think we are going to get," said Mr. Bolton.

But several other Council ambassadors, including China and Russia, have signaled that consensus might be difficult, saying they want to take a close look at the wording of the resolution. Algerian envoy Abdallah Baali, the only Arab representative on the Council, said he would have difficulty supporting any measure that goes further than urging cooperation with the investigation.

"I don't think the time has come to envisage any premature, any action or any kind of measures, what is expected from all concerned at this stage is to fully cooperate with the investigation," he noted.

The United States has called for a foreign minister level Security Council meeting next Monday to consider a resolution. But diplomats say that date could be pushed back, depending on the progress of text negotiations.

French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said the measure would not include any threat of sanctions against Syria, at least until after the Mehlis investigation is completed.

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