U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is reassuring the Arab world that Syria can avoid U.N. sanctions if it cooperates fully with a U.N. investigation into the February car-bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others. Mr. Annan spoke in Cairo after talks with the Egyptian foreign minister.
Mr. Annan tried to soothe Arab nations' concerns over possible sanctions against Syria, saying he believes Damascus will cooperate with the investigators led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis.
The Syrian foreign ministry says it is considering a request by the U.N. team to interview six senior Syrian officials. The Security Council last week voted unanimously to demand Syria's full cooperation.
Mr. Annan says impunity will not be tolerated, and the Security Council's goal is to get to the truth and punish the perpetrators.
"Syria has indicated it will cooperate fully, and I myself have had the chance to speak to President Assad after the passage of the resolution and he confirmed that to me. Recently Syria has had a good record of implementation of UN resolutions; they did cooperate on 1559 on the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the withdrawal of the security apparatus from Lebanon," said Mr. Annan. "The last Lebanese elections were free and fair without any interference from outside, as far as we know, and I would expect and urge Syria to continue that cooperation with the investigation and work with Mehlis."
Mr. Annan spoke to reporters in Cairo after talks with the Egyptian foreign minister. He also met with Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Syrian authorities are worried that the U.N. team will want to interview the men in Lebanon, where they could be arrested and charged as suspects. Mr. Annan says he is not sure where the interviews would take place.
"We don't know what Detlev Mehlis will do, but it is possible that he may wish to interview senior Syrians wherever he deems most appropriate<" he continued. "It could be in Syria, it could be elsewhere. But I think this is something that Mehlis will have to determine, where he should interview them."
Neither the U.N. team nor the Syrian authorities have identified the Syrian officials the investigators want to question. But local press reports say President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law, General Asef Shawkat, is one of them. He is the chief of Syrian military intelligence.
Syria has launched its own investigation into the Hariri killing. Mr. Annan dismissed concerns about the Syrian probe and said it could help Mr. Mehlis in his work.