- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2005

NEW YORK — The foreign ministers of U.N. Security Council nations are expected to pass a legally binding resolution today, demanding that high-level officials in Damascus be arrested in connection with the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The resolution, which was negotiated in less than a week, was drafted by the United States, France and Britain in response to a U.N. investigation that accused more than a half-dozen senior Lebanese and Syrian security and intelligence officials of helping plan or execute the Feb. 14 car bombing that killed 23.

“I think a lot of questions have been answered and some potential problems overcome,” U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton told reporters Friday. “I’m still optimistic that we’re going to have a resolution for the ministers to approve on Monday.”

Diplomats said at least 13 foreign ministers were expected to attend the morning meeting, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Jack Straw of Britain and Philippe Douste-Blazy of France.

The council also will discuss Syrian influence in Lebanon in light of a report last week from Terje Roed Larsen — Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special envoy responsible for certifying Syria’s withdrawal of all troops and intelligence agents.

The ambassadors of China and Russia, both veto-holding members of the council, indicated Friday that they would not veto the resolution on Syria as it stands.

Algeria, the lone Arab voice on the council, also is resistant to imposing sanctions on Syria but does not have a veto.

The latest draft, circulated to diplomats Friday evening, calls on Syria to denounce terrorism and halt support to terrorist groups. It notes that “converging evidence” indicates Syrian knowledge and planning of the Hariri assassination and calls on the government to cooperate fully with the investigation headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis.

The resolution demands that the government detain suspects for questioning by the Mehlis commission and allow them to leave the country if investigators request it.

Such arrests do not imply any guilt, the draft says. But if the Syrian government fails to comply, the council could ban travel by the suspects and freeze their assets as soon as Dec. 15. The council also would consider economic sanctions against Syria at that point.

A report released by the commission on Oct. 20 reaches into Syrian President Bashar Assad’s inner circle, naming his brother and brother-in-law as suspects in the assassination.

Mr. Mehlis said last week that his team was frustrated at the lack of cooperation from Damascus and suggested that Syria conduct its own investigation into the killing. He also indicated that Mr. Assad had refused to meet with investigators.

Mr. Assad on Saturday ordered the creation of “a special judicial committee headed by the prosecutor-general and comprising the military prosecutor and a judge to be named by the justice minister,” the official Syria Arab News Agency (SANA) reported.

The panel will “question Syrian civilians and military personnel on all matters relating to the U.N. investigation commission’s mission,” SANA said.

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