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Syria Charged With Slowing Hariri Assassination Probe

A top U.N. official has told the Security Council Syria is not cooperating with the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The Security Council Thursday issued a statement urging all states to cooperate fully with the U.N. team investigating Mr. Hariri's assassination. The statement came after a closed-door meeting where the Council heard a briefing on the progress of the probe.

The short statement made no mention of Syria, but diplomats attending the session say the message was clearly aimed at Damascus.

Those diplomats said the head of the international investigation, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis complained that Syria has refused to turn over documents and ignored interview requests. He informed the Council that Syria's lack of cooperation had slowed down the pace of his investigation.

Mr. Mehlis was not present at the meeting, but his views were communicated by U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs Ibrahim Gambari.

In comments to reporters afterward, Mr. Gambari was careful to avoid singling out Syria for criticism. "I was very factual to say that I had written to neighboring countries for cooperation," he said. "Jordan responded, Israel had responded, and Mehlis was awaiting a response from Syria."

Several members of the Security Council however, made clear that they were losing patience with Syria's lack of cooperation with the probe. Washington's U.N. ambassador John Bolton expressed disappointment that the Council's statement did not mention Syria by name, and said he wanted to give what he called the American translation.

"We are disappointed that we couldn't be clearer today in the Council," said Mr. Bolton. "But let there be no ambiguity about the American view that Syria's lack of cooperation with the independent international investigatory commission is not acceptable."

The deputy French Ambassador Michel Duclos said despite the diplomatic language of the statement, there should be no doubt it was aimed at Syria. "In my mind, the message is clear, and the message is that the Security Council requests Syria to cooperate now, and adequately," he said.

Speaking to reporters after the Council meeting, Syria's U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad rejected the Council' criticism. He said his government is ready to cooperate with the Mehlis probe.

"Syria is very much interested in the result of all the investigation," he said. "We shall cooperate with Mr. Mehlis, and we think it is in our interest that all realities and facts behind this horrible terrorist crime are revealed."

The Security Council ordered the Mehlis Commission probe after an initial U.N. report described Lebanon's investigation of the Hariri assassination as flawed. Mr. Mehlis was given until September 15th to complete the job, but U.N. officials say he is likely to ask for an extension of the deadline.

Mr. Hariri was killed when his motorcade was blown up last February in downtown Beirut. His assassination led to protests and international pressure on Syria to withdraw its army from Lebanon. Syria has repeatedly denied any involvement in the assasination.