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Syrian President, Foreign Minister Sought for U.N. Commission Interviews


A United Nations commission has asked to interview Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara regarding the murder of Lebanese ex-Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in early 2005.

The UN commission's request follows an al-Arabiya interview with former Syrian Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam. The commission also wishes to interview Mr. Khaddam.

Mr. Khaddam recently told a reporter for the Arabic al-Arabiya network that in August 2004, months before the assassination, Syrian President Assad subjected then Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri to "very, very, very harsh words."

The former vice president said, "The harsh words were, 'You want to bring a [new] president in Lebanon. ... I will not allow that. I will crush whoever attempts to overturn our decision'."

The Syrian parliament responded to the interview by recommending the former vice president be tried for high treason, while the official Syrian newspaper Al-Baath called Mr. Khaddam's comments "fabrications and illusions".

The U.S. Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, recently expressed impatience with the Syrian government's apparent reluctance to cooperate.

"But their lack of cooperation, indeed their affirmative obstruction of the Mehlis [UN] commission needs a response and we're looking to find exactly what that should be," said Mr. Bolton.

Syria's UN Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad responded to Mr. Bolton. "Ambassador Bolton has always been wrong. Whatever he said was wrong."

Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a truck bombing. In two interim reports published last year, the UN commission stated high-ranking Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials were behind the assassination. Syria has repeatedly denied the accusation.

It is believed Mr. Hariri was killed because he opposed extending the mandate of pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emile Lahoud another three years.

Since the killing, Lebanese-Syrian relations have deteriorated. In April, Syrian forces withdrew from Lebanon. In elections held last June, the Lebanese voted in a new legislature dominated by an anti-Syrian majority.

Lebanese Parliamentary Member Ghinwa Jalloul says, "The Lebanese people want the whole truth, Arabs want the whole truth and also the international community."

For now all the world, and the UN, can do is wait for Syria to respond to their interview requests.

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