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UN Considers Creating Hariri Tribunal After Diplomatic Mission Fails

Britain, France and the United States are preparing to ask the United Nations to create an international court to try suspects in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. VOA's Peter Heinlein at the U.N. reports Security Council action is seen as a last resort, after a special envoy concluded that Lebanese efforts to establish the court are hopelessly deadlocked.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent his top legal adviser Nicholas Michel to Lebanon last month to try to break the impasse preventing creation of a Hariri assassination tribunal. Michel told the Security Council Wednesday his mission had failed, and it was up to the Council to decide what to do next.

"I had to say that I had no progress to report on the efforts that I made, and it's definitely for them to assess situation on that basis and to decide what course of action they want to take," Michel said.

Hariri and 22 others died in a suicide truck bomb explosion in Beirut more than two years ago. An initial U.N. inquiry implicated senior Syrian intelligence officials in the murder. Damascus strongly denied involvement, and condemned the killings.

But the creation of a tribunal is a politically-charged issue. Pro-Syrian factions are demanding effective control of Lebanon's legislature before allowing a parliamentary vote on the tribunal.

After listening to Michel's briefing, the British, French and American representatives suggested it may be time for the Security Council to consider creating the court.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad noted that all Lebanese factions had agreed to the tribunal in principle. He suggested the Security Council might bypass Lebanon's political disputes by invoking the legally-binding authority of Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter. "We haven't discussed any options at this point, but of course the Security Council could assist the Lebanese by establishing the tribunal that the Lebanese have agreed to broadly, under Chapter Seven by the Security Council," he said.

British Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry told reporters, "It is time to bite the bullet and take action to put a tribunal in place." French envoy Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said "the time for the Security Council to exercise its responsibilities is approaching".

But Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin signalled Moscow's skepticism about pre-emptive Security Council action to create the court. Churkin suggested Lebanon's rival factions might still find a way to break their deadlock. "The people in Lebanon cannot be looking to the Security Council to solve all their problems. And I do hope that there is still an opportunity to agree on this special tribunal," he said.

Western diplomats say Russia is not alone in expressing reservations about pre-emptive Council action to create a Hariri tribunal. They say further talks on the matter are likely this month, when the United States holds the Security Council presidency.