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Rice Blasts 'Nonchalant' Syrian Attitude Toward Assassination Report

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Monday lashed out against what she said was a "nonchalant" Syrian attitude toward the U.N. report implicating Damascus in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Ms. Rice, who is in Ottawa for talks with top Canadian officials, said she expects U.N. Security Council action on the issue.

Ms. Rice is making no effort to conceal her irritation over the reaction to the U.N. investigator's report by Syria, which has rejected the document as an effort led by the United States and Israel to discredit the Damascus government.

In an airborne talk with reporters en route to Ottawa, Ms. Rice predicted that there will be further action by the U.N. Security Council against Syria because of the U.N. report, which implicates senior Syrian and Lebanese security officials in the February assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister.

In the meantime, she advised Syrian authorities to take their perilous situation with the international community seriously, and to end what she said has been a dismissive attitude toward the findings of U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis:

"We have two very important goals now. One is to make very clear to the Syrians that this is really serious matter, and that their nonchalant attitude about this report, their efforts to discredit the investigator, the thinks that they have said about it being ridiculous and so forth, are actually not the attitude of the international community. The international community takes this report very seriously, intends for them to comply, and intends for them to cooperate," Ms. Rice says.

The Bush administration is seeking a U.N. Security Council meeting at the foreign ministers' level as early as next Monday to discuss possible punitive measures against Syria.

However, Ms. Rice would not be specific about what penalties the United States might seek, and also signaled flexibility on the timing of international sanctions.

France, which has worked closely with the United States on Lebanese issues, has suggested that sanctions should await a final U.N. report on the Hariri killing.

Ms. Rice said the issue is all about Syrian behavior, but said if others want to "sequence" the international response, then it can be sequenced.

She also noted that a separate U.N. report is due later this week on Syrian compliance with the U.S. and French-sponsored Security Council resolution 1559 last September demanding an end to Syria's military and intelligence presence in Lebanon.

Syrian troops left Lebanon last April, but U.S. officials believe Syria's intelligence presence in Lebanon may not have been dismantled.

Ms. Rice said she expected the Syrian issue to figure in her talks here with Prime Minister Paul Martin and other top Canadian officials.

The agenda also includes a difficult trade dispute between the two countries over Canadian lumber exports to the United States, which U.S. officials say are unfairly subsidized.

The Secretary of State said the lumber trade is only a small fraction of the two countries' trade volume and that a negotiated solution is still possible.

She also held out hope Canada might reconsider its opposition to joining the Bush administration's missile defense program, an issue that prompted Ms. Rice to put off a Canada visit earlier this year.