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Rice, Annan Confer in Advance of Key UN Reports on Syria

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an unannounced trip to New York to meet U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Tuesday on Syria and other global issues. The meeting precedes U.N. reports this week on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and implementation of the Security Council resolution that demanded Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon.

Ms. Rice met Mr. Annan over breakfast at his New York residence Tuesday morning in a visit that was unannounced beforehand, and drew complaints from State Department correspondents who normally accompany the Secretary of State on such trips.

State Department officials said the discussion was wide-ranging and included Middle East and African issues, but that the main focus was on Syria and Lebanon in advance of two key United Nations reports later this week.

Mr. Annan is due to receive a report Friday on the U.N. investigation into the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, for which many Lebanese blame Syria.

The secretary-general is also due to be briefed this week by special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen on progress in implementing last year's U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, aimed at ending Syria's occupation and dominant influence in Lebanon.

Uniformed Syrian troops left Lebanon in late April to end nearly 30 years of occupation. But U.S. officials are skeptical about Syrian compliance with the U.N. call to end its intelligence presence in Lebanon, and say there is no sign that the Syrian-backed Hezbollah militia is ready to disarm, as also called for in the September 2004 resolution.

Anticipation has been mounting about what the U.N. investigative team led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis will report on the Hariri killing.

Several Lebanese security officials with close ties to Syria were charged by Lebanese authorities in the Hariri case in late August after having been implicated by Mr. Mehlis, who also interviewed Syrian officials.

One of the Syrians questioned, Interior Minister and former Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon Ghazi Kanaan, committed suicide last week.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack was circumspect about the Rice-Annan discussion, saying that Ms. Rice, who asked for the meeting, felt it appropriate to meet the Secretary-General given the Syria-Lebanon issues on the U.N. calendar this week:

"It's going to be a busy calendar in the coming week or so with regard to Syria, with regard to Lebanon," said Sean McCormack. "We'll take a look at what new information has come out in terms of these reports and take a look, and I think collectively, we will take a look at where we are with regard to Syria's behavior. And if, as I said there are any further steps or actions that are warranted by that look at where Syria is in terms of its behavior of failure to change its behavior, then we'll have a good discussion about that."

A senior official who spoke to reporters said Mr. Mehlis has scrupulously guarded his independence and that the United States has no inking on what he might report on Syrian involvement, if any, in the death of Mr. Hariri.

But he said it was "reasonable to infer" that Ms. Rice and Secretary Annan discussed possible next steps that might be taken by the international community on the Hariri case, and on failures to implement terms of resolution 1559.

Officials also say Syria was a key issue in talks Secretary Rice had with officials in Paris, Moscow, and London after completing a mission to Central Asia last week.

The Bush administration says the Damascus government has not done enough to curb the cross-border flow into Iraq of foreign fighters seeking to join Iraqi insurgency.

On that issue, the State Department's Iraq policy coordinator Jim Jeffrey told reporters Tuesday the administration is looking for a change in Syrian behavior, but has not yet seen it, and in his words: "we are impatient."