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US Urges Syria's President to Cooperate with Hariri Assassination Probe

Washington's U.N. ambassador is calling on the president of Syria to answer questions about the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Security Council is debating a proposal threatening sanctions against anyone refusing to cooperate in the Hariri assassination probe.

The Security Council has scheduled a foreign minister-level meeting next Monday to consider a toughly-worded measure aimed at forcing senior Syrian officials to cooperate with a U.N. probe into the bomb blast that killed Mr. Hariri.

The measure threatens sanctions against anyone who refuses to cooperate. They include a ban on travel and a freezing of assets.

Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton says that should include all Syrian officials, including President Bashar al-Assad.

"It absolutely includes the president of Syria," Mr. Bolton said. "No person is above the law, and the president had time to talk to the media, to all of you ladies and gentlemen, and if he has time to do that, he has time to talk to Commissioner Mehlis."

Britain, France and the United States circulated the draft resolution Tuesday, after German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis complained that top Syrian officials, had refused to cooperate, and in some cases impeded his U.N.-authorized investigation.

In a written report last week, the Mehlis' Commission implicated President al-Assad's brother and brother-in-law in the assassination plot, and said Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa had tried to mislead investigators.

But several Security Council members, including veto-wielding Russia and China, have been cool to the suggestion of any threat of sanctions. A Russian foreign ministry spokesman Wednesday said Moscow will do everything necessary to prevent attempts to impose such measures.

China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya told VOA the draft proposal before the Council goes beyond what is called for in terms of Syria's cooperation.

"But my personal feeling is it is a tough resolution, difficult to accept now," he said.

Ambassador Abdallah Baali of Algeria, the only Arab member of the Security Council, says any resolution should go only as far as demanding Syria's cooperation.

"Our wish is to see Syria cooperate with the commission," Mr. Baali said. "In general we don't like sanctions, and don't think in present circumstances we should envisage sanctions.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad Wednesday rejected assertions that President Assad was refusing to cooperate with the Hariri probe. He noted that the Syrian leader has condemned the killing in clear terms.

"President Assad is the leader of Syria, he has never tolerated such criminal actions, and he expressed on more than one occasion that those who committed this crime, whether Syrians or not, are traitors and have to be put to justice," Mr. Mekdad said.

In a related development Wednesday, a U.N. envoy reported that Palestinian groups in Lebanon are receiving weapons from Syria in apparent violation of a Security Council resolution. The envoy, Norwegian diplomat Terje Roed-Larsen, said Lebanese efforts to stem the flow of arms had achieved what he called "no tangible results".

Syrian Ambassador Mekdad rejected the Roed-Larsen report's findings, saying such violations would be unacceptable to Damascus.

"If you go to Lebanon, you can find arms everywhere. We don't allow export of weapons through Syria," Mr. Mekdad said. "If there are violations, we will not accept such a thing.

The ambassador said Syria has complied fully with the terms of Security Council resolution that demands the full withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon.