- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

NEW YORK — The United States and France, with an assist from Britain, last night circulated a draft resolution to members of the U.N. Security Council demanding that Syria arrest suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and cooperate fully with the U.N. investigation or face sanctions.

The draft, which is under discussion in council member countries and among U.N. diplomats, also calls for governments to freeze the assets of about 10 people and impose a global travel ban.

A 54-page report of the investigation released Thursday named as suspects the brother and brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Assad, as well as senior members of the Lebanese and Syrian security services.

Any use of sanctions is likely to draw opposition from China and Russia, both of which have close relations with Damascus and vetoes in the council.

“If Syria has nothing to hide, let them cooperate with” the investigation, U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton told a group of reporters last night, adding that Washington hopes to convene a council meeting of foreign ministers on Monday to discuss the draft, which is legally binding under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter.

Detlev Mehlis, the head of the investigation into the Feb. 14 assassination, would be responsible for determining whether Syria has cooperated.

He is to wrap up the investigation by Dec. 15 but could be given more time if the Lebanese government requests an extension.

The German prosecutor told the council yesterday that evidence showed that Syrian and Lebanese officials were involved in the planning and execution of the car bombing that killed Mr. Hariri and 22 others and wounded scores in downtown Beirut.

However, Mr. Mehlis said, the Syrian government was refusing to produce witnesses, share documents or offer comprehensive and accurate answers to questions.

He suggested that Damascus undertake its own investigation to “fill in the gaps” because it would not make sense to return to Syria unless complete cooperation was assured.

Syria’s U.N. Ambassador, Fayssal Mekdad, did not respond to the suggestion of a domestic inquiry, but he repeatedly stressed in his Security Council appearance that his government had cooperated fully with the U.N. investigation and would continue to do so.

He also questioned the “real objectives” of nations — presumably the United States — in such a rush to condemn Damascus.

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have refused to rule out force.

The U.S.-French draft, written with British input, expresses “extreme concern” about any official Lebanese and Syrian involvement in the assassination and notes that any connection with “a terrorist act” violates a raft of counterterrorism resolutions.

The Syrian government sent troops into neighboring Lebanon in the mid-1970s to help end a civil war. It withdrew about 27,000 troops and an unknown number of intelligence agents this spring under pressure from the council.

However, U.S. and other governments are concerned that Damascus continues to gather intelligence from within Lebanon, in violation of the council’s resolutions.

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