(photo credit: )
Syria's foreign minister said Damascus will not deal with the international tribunal being set up by the UN to prosecute suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
"The issue of the tribunal concerns Lebanon alone, and Syria will not concede its sovereignty to any party, no matter who that party is," Walid al-Muallem said Friday at a joint press conference in Damascus with his visiting Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki.
"It will not affect us because we have already informed the Security Council that we will not deal with the tribunal," he added.
The tribunal, which the UN Security Council voted to establish Wednesday, has been at the core of a political crisis between the Western-backed government in Beirut and the Syrian-supported opposition. Street clashes over the issue in recent months have killed 11 people.
A massive suicide truck bomb in Beirut killed Hariri and 22 others in February 2005. The first UN chief investigator, Detlev Mehlis, said the complexity of the assassination suggested Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services played a role. Four Lebanese generals, top pro-Syrian security chiefs, have been under arrest for 20 months, accused of involvement.
Syria has denied any involvement in the bombing.
Asked about al-Woallem's comment, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in New York that the resolution is legally binding "and the international community should fully cooperate" with it.
Ban said Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Saniora called him on Thursday "and we agreed to fully cooperate for the early establishment of the special tribunal."
Saniora, who is backed by the US, asked the Security Council earlier this month to establish the tribunal, citing the refusal of opposition-aligned Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to convene a session to ratify its creation.
The reaction of Syria and its allies in the Lebanese opposition cast doubt that the factions would overcome their differences before a June 10 deadline set by the UN If the Lebanese parliament does not establish the tribunal by then, the Security Council will impose it.
UN officials have said the tribunal could take up to a year to establish, and with the investigation ongoing, it remains unclear who would face trial.