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UN Investigator Seeks Syrian Cooperation in Hariri Death Probe


The top U.N. investigator probing the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri says Syria's cooperation is critical in solving the crime. Investigators believe the assassination was carried out by a team of professionals.

Belgian investigator Serge Brammertz told the Security Council Thursday his probe of the Hariri assassination is making progress. But he said he needs greater cooperation from Syrian officials.

Brammertz took over the investigation in January from German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis. In an interim report last year, Mehlis accused high-level Syrian intelligence officials of involvement in the February 2005 killing. He complained that Damascus had limited access to key witnesses, and charged that Syrian Vice-President Farouq al-Shara had given investigators misleading information

In a written report this week, Brammertz said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Vice-President al-Shara had for the first time agreed to be interviewed. But he told the Council he is planning to make several more demands for Syrian cooperation.

"Our expectations vis-à-vis the Syrian authorities are high in this respect," said Serge Brammertz. "The commission has already prepared several new requests for cooperation to the Syrian foreign ministry. The coming weeks will prove whether our requirements will be fulfilled."

Brammertz told the Council he is cautiously optimistic about Syria's offer to cooperate. But in comments to reporters afterward, he said he was taking a "wait-and-see" attitude.

"The cooperation with Syria, we are fully aware that this cooperation has not always been successful in the past, and we're happy that today we have more clarity about the framework in which this cooperation can take place," he said. "In the coming weeks we'll see if our cautious optimism is justified or not."

Syria has repeatedly denied any involvement in the Hariri assassination. After Thursday's Security Council session, Syria's deputy foreign minister, Feyssal Mekdad, said his government has always been willing to cooperate with investigators.

"From the beginning, Syria has offered its full cooperation with the Commission, and our relations with the new commissioner as reflected in the report have only reconfirmed this belief in good cooperation with the commission, a cooperation that will lead to uncovering those who perpetrated this heinous crime against the life of the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri," said Feyssal Mekdad.

But several Security Council diplomats expressed skepticism about Syria's intentions. After a private meeting with investigator Brammertz Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said considering Syria's past refusal to cooperate, their current agreement to cooperate should be viewed with suspicion.

"Agreement in principle doesn't really mean anything," said John Bolton. "Performance is what we're looking for. The end of their obstructionist behavior and that remains to be seen. It's not a question of words from Syria, we've had a lot of words. We want performance."

In his report to the Council this week, Brammertz said his probe had made progress in identifying Hariri's assassins, and determining how they planted the bomb that killed him. He said those who carried out the crime appear to have been "very professional," and said he is now trying to discover who ordered the killing.

The investigator is due to report again to the Security Council in three months, but said he may return earlier if he fails to get Syria's cooperation with the probe.