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Rice Calls Report of Syrian Role in Hariri Killing "Troubling"

22 October 2005

Secretary says U.S. will seek Security Council meeting on the issue

By Ralph Dannheisser
Washington File Special Correspondent

Washington -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has described as "deeply troubling" a United Nations investigation that implicates Syrian officials in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and finds the Syrian government to be obstructing the inquiry.

The charges will lead the international community, particularly members of the Security Council, to "seriously consider how it will demand accountability," Rice said October 21 after what she described as an "initial reading" of the investigative report prepared for the United Nations by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis. (See related article.)

Rice made the comments in response to questions at a media briefing en route to a speaking engagement in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, accompanied by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of the United Kingdom.

The secretary said she would be discussing the question of how to move forward with Straw, whose government is a permanent Security Council member and currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.  She said she expected to undertake similar discussions swiftly with other foreign ministers, "particularly those who are on the Security Council."

Rice expanded upon those comments later October 21, reporting at a joint press briefing with Straw that President Bush had instructed her to seek a Security Council meeting on the issue, most likely at the ministerial level, as soon as possible.

In their conversation, held soon after Rice landed in Birmingham, Bush indicated that "there will have to be some way to ensure accountability for what has been found" in the Mehlis report, the secretary said.

Straw said he strongly agreed with the U.S. position and was "very glad that the president has proposed there should be this ministerial meeting of the Security Council."

"It is very disturbing, this report," Straw said at the earlier briefing. "It is further evidence of the extraordinary view that the Syrian elites have held for Lebanon, which is that they regard it as a subordinate territory and not as an independent state."

That "arrogance" appears to have led to "people very close to the top of the Syrian regime" being implicated in Hariri’s murder, he added. Straw said the issue is "one that the international community is going to take very seriously, indeed."

Asked what form a prosecution might take, Rice said there have been "numerous meetings and discussions about what kind of mechanism might be used to bring people to justice."

While "there are, of course, limitations for the Lebanese," the secretary said, "the Lebanese have to be also very much involved in this process, even in the lead." The specific mechanism will require further discussions, she added.

There is time to consider this aspect because "Mehlis has made clear that he needs more time to fully pursue this investigation," suggesting that "this is going to continue, at least until December 15th," she said.

Rice noted that, at the same time, officials are awaiting a report on U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 "concerning compliance with the aftermath of the withdrawal of Syrian forces.  So there's a lot on the table … [and] the Security Council is going to have to be a focal point for it."

Regardless of specifics, she said, "Accountability is going to be very important for the international community.  We cannot have the specter of one state of apparatus having participated or having been involved in the assassination of the former Prime Minister and soon to be candidate of another state."

Rice alluded to the issue again in a question-and-answer session after she delivered a speech at the Blackburn Institute at the University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa.

"The United Nations Security Council has to take extremely seriously the report before it from Prosecutor Mehlis about the circumstances leading to the assassination of Rafiq Hariri and … who it is likely has been implicated in that murder," she declared.

Rice said "there are some very important lessons for Syria and the need for Syria to respect a country the rest of us regard as independent."

U.N. REFORM

Rice also was asked about the United Nations’ credibility in the aftermath of the scandal involving the Oil-for-Food program with Iraq.

She repeated the U.S. position that "the United Nations needs reform and we’ve pressed very hard for reform, particularly of the Secretariat and the management practices of the United Nations."

The secretary said "the real scandal" in Oil-for-Food "is not just that there were apparently bribes taken and all kinds of problems with corruption," but that the impact of the sanctions "was more on the Iraqi people than on the regime, which was gaming the system." (See related article.)

Rice also addressed the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan. She acknowledged "it took us far too long to act … because the Security Council was tied up and held up by members … who had other interests in Sudan and did not want to put those aside to deal with the very dire security situation there."

"So to the degree that the Security Council is going to remain relevant, it has to demonstrate that it can act and that it can act quickly," Rice said. (See Darfur Humanitarian Emergency Archive.)

In her university speech, the secretary linked U.S. efforts to advance democracy abroad to the struggle for civil rights in the southern United States -- and specifically in her native Alabama -- in the 1950s and 1960s.

"By resolving the contradiction at the heart of our democracy, America finally found its voice as a true champion of democracy beyond its shores," she said.

As part of that effort, she said, "We are supporting the impatient patriots of Afghanistan .… We are supporting the impatient patriots of Lebanon .… We are supporting the impatient patriots of the Palestinian territory.  And finally, of course, we are standing together with the impatient patriots of Iraq."

The full comments by Secretary Rice and Foreign Secretary Straw en route to Birmingham, as well as their joint press availability and their remarks at the Blackburn Institute, are available at the State Department Web site.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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