- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2005

NEW YORK — The U.N. Security Council yesterday demanded Syria’s unconditional cooperation in the investigation into former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination, starting with the detainment and questioning of high-level suspects.

The 15 council members unanimously approved the move to tighten the vise on Syria, which was accused by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of destabilizing its neighbors in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

The five-page resolution, drafted by the United States and France and legally binding under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, demands that Damascus cooperate with the international investigation led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis and with future prosecutions.

The demand that suspects be arrested is particularly awkward for Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose brother and brother-in-law have been named in the probe.

In a report two weeks ago, Mr. Mehlis said converging evidence implicated Syrian and Lebanese intelligence and security officials in the planning and execution of the Feb. 14 car bombing that killed Mr. Hariri and 22 others. The prosecutor also said officials lied, stonewalled or refused to be questioned.

Under the new resolution, a failure to cooperate — as certified by the Mehlis commission and unanimously accepted by the council — could lead to “further action.” Although the next steps are not spelled out, Washington and Paris initially had wanted a threat of economic sanctions.

“With our decision today, we show that Syria has isolated itself from the international community — through its false statements, its support for terrorism, its interference in the affairs of its neighbors, and its destabilizing behavior in the Middle East,” Miss Rice said.

“Now, the Syrian government must make a strategic decision to fundamentally change its behavior.”

The Syrian government continually has protested its innocence in the Hariri killing. On Saturday, Damascus announced it would begin its own investigation and take steps toward addressing complaints related to human rights and security.

Syria is required by the new resolution to detain all suspects in the Beirut killings and allow investigators to interrogate them in private.

Damascus also must renounce terrorism and halt support for militant groups, which Washington takes to mean Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Palestinian militias and the insurgents passing through Syria into Iraq.

The resolution also calls on governments to freeze the assets of suspects named by the Mehlis commission and the Security Council, and to impose a travel ban on them.

To win over veto-wielding China and Russia, the co-sponsors agreed to subject Mr. Mehlis’ findings to review by a committee composed of all council members. That means any further action to punish Syria will require unanimous approval.

U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton said yesterday that he did not anticipate divisions. However, the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers indicated that political pressure on Syria should not go beyond the scope of the Mehlis investigation.

Syria is a major arms customer of Russia, which is negotiating the purchase of items such as tanks, amphibious reconnaissance vehicles, jet fighters, anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank missiles and guided artillery projectiles.

Chinese annual trade with Syria totals about $500 million, compared with more than $230 billion with the United States, but Beijing traditionally has opposed what it sees as interference in another country’s internal affairs.

“The Mehlis report is still a preliminary report, and the commission itself believes that the investigation is yet to be completed and there is no final conclusion,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing.

“Under such circumstances, it is inappropriate for the council to prejudge the outcome of the investigation and to threaten to impose sanctions.”

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