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Syria, Lebanon, and the Assassination

28 October 2005

The United States, Britain, and France are asking the Security Council to threaten Syria with sanctions unless it cooperates with the U.N. investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.  Chief U.N investigator Detlev Mehlis asked the Security Council Tuesday for help in persuading Syrian authorities to cooperate with his probe. 

The Mehlis investigation issued last week concluded that the February 14th bomb attack that killed the former Lebanese prime minister could not have been organized and carried out without the approval of top-ranking Syrian security officials and the collusion of their counterparts in Lebanon.

Rami Khouri, editor of the Beirut Daily Star, said for months that people in Lebanon and elsewhere have said that the Syrian security agencies were involved in the assassination and that the current investigation is a strong indictment of the Syrian regime.  But Syria’s U.N. ambassador has rejected the Mehlis commission findings and said that Damascus is being unfairly singled out. However, speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Rami Khouri said that the Security Council is acting appropriately and enjoys “international legitimacy” and that the accusation against Syria ought not to be seen as an American or European-led process.

Nadia Bilbassy, senior correspondent for al-Arabiyya television, said she and many others in the Arab world were not surprised by the results of the investigation.  But she also noted that some believe the United States is eager to blame the government in Damascus as it did Saddam Hussein for possessing weapons of mass destruction.  According to Ms. Bilbassy, what the Syrians fear most is a replay of the intervention in Iraq and the eventual downfall of their government.  But, given the compelling nature of the U.N. investigation, she thinks Syria has little room for maneuvering.

Nonetheless, British journalist and U.N. reporter Ian Williams said the United States, Britain, and France may have difficulty bringing other members of the Security Council, such as Russia, China, and Algeria, “on board” for imposing sanctions on Syria.  He noted that the Mehlis investigation shows how pervasive Syrian control of Lebanon was and it is increasingly unlikely anyone would believe an assassination plot could have been carried out without the Syrians “knowing, condoning, and supporting it.” 

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