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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

25 October 2005

U.S., France Working To Send Strong Security Council Signal to Syria

Hariri assassination probe needs Syrian cooperation, investigator Mehlis says

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- After meeting with the lead U.N. investigator into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, the United States and France are working on a strong Security Council resolution spotlighting the need for Syria to cooperate in the probe, diplomats said October 25.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said that the United States and France "want a very strong signal from the council to the government of Syria that its obstructionism must cease and cease immediately.  We want substantive cooperation in the investigation from Syria.

"We want witnesses made available; we want documents produced; we want real cooperation, not simply the appearance of cooperation," Bolton said.

"We will be producing a joint French-American resolution as soon as we can," possibly by the end of the day, he said, adding,  "It is a matter of moving urgently, but we want to do it deliberately and prudently and with broad support."

In his report, Detlev Mehlis, head of the U.N. International Independent Investigation Commission, implicated both Lebanese and Syrian high-ranking officials in the murder of Hariri and 20 others on February 14.  He also said that Syria's failure to cooperate has hampered the commission's work.  (See related article.)

"If the investigation is to be completed, it is essential that the government of Syria fully cooperate with the investigating authorities, including allowing for interviews to be held outside Syria and for interviewees not to be accompanied by Syrian officials," Mehlis said in the report.

At the request of Lebanon, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has extended the work of the independent commission until December 15.

Mehlis briefed the Security Council October 25 in open session and then met with the 15 members privately for about two hours.

He said that the investigation will continue unchanged, maintaining the same level of cooperation with the Lebanese authorities, re-interviewing a number of witnesses and interviewing new ones as the investigation unfolds and examining new evidence.

Extending the investigation, Mehlis said, "would provide yet another opportunity for the Syrian authorities to show greater and meaningful cooperation and to provide any relevant substantial evidence of the assassination."

Mehlis also invited Syrian authorities "to carry out, on their part, their own investigation" into the assassination of Hariri in an open and transparent manner.  "This would enable the commission to 'fill in the gaps' and to have a clearer picture about the organizers and perpetrators of the February 14 terrorist act," he said.

French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said, "this is an important day in the council. ... What Mehlis is saying is that there is a lack of cooperation from Syria, so this is a very serious concern and the council should address it."

The representatives of United States and France expressed the hope that the council would be able to vote on the draft resolution by October 31.

Syrian Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad criticized the report and Mehlis saying, "every paragraph in this report deserves a comment to refute its contents."  He said that the charges against Syria and Lebanon could be made "against any security service in any country in the world on whose territory any crime takes place."

Mekdad said Syria will cooperate, but did not respond to Mehlis' suggestion that Syria undertake its own investigation.

MEHLIS WANTS SYRIA TO ACT, NOT JUST REACT

At a press conference, Mehlis said that Syria's criticism was to be expected.  "If I were in his position, I would have done it in the same way," he said.

Nevertheless, Mehlis said, "part of the picture of the assassination lays in Syria and can only be presented by Syria."

The commission has concluded that the assassination was organized by Syrian and Lebanese security officials, he said.

"We think Syria has control of much more information than the information provided to us so far.  I hope what is happening now will lead to real cooperation on the part of Syria," Mehlis said.

For example, he said, the commission has asked Syria for its files on Hariri and another assassination target, but Syria said that it did not have any documents.  "Frankly speaking," Mehlis said, "I do not think it is true.  What can I do?  I cannot send 500 investigators to Syria to look for documents [when] I don't know where to find them."

"I expect the Syrian authorities not to react but just to act, to look for documents themselves," the investigator said.

It would be a good idea for Syrian authorities "to make an extra effort by themselves -- not waiting to be approached -- to help and assist in this investigation," Mehlis said.

The commission has not asked for more interviews from Syrian officials because "the way it went, it doesn't make to much sense" to do so, he said.  "We interviewed a considerable number of Syrian officials and we received the same standard answers.  Under the present conditions, it doesn't make any sense to interview Syrian officials to get the same standard answers."

Mehlis also said that his team, which consists of 30 investigators from 17 nations, has "received a number of threats which were deemed, in the assessment of our security personnel, to be credible" since the investigation began.  He said that he expects the "already high" risks to his team "will increase further, particularly after the issuance of the report."

As far as the commission can determine, the threats have come from alleged terrorist groups, not official sources, Mehlis said.

See also Bush Calls for United Response to Syria Following Mehlis Report and Rice Calls Report of Syrian Role in Hariri Killing "Troubling".

(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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