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The United States said Tuesday it plans to introduce a resolution, possibly later this week, to have the United Nations to unilaterally establish an international tribunal to prosecute suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the move came following a formal request from Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora to UN Secertary-General Ban Ki-moon. In the letter, Saniora cited Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's refusal to convene a session of parliament to formally ratify the statutes of the tribunal and the bilateral agreement with the United Nations. He stressed the support of the majority of parliamentarians for the tribunal.
"We cannot let the Lebanese down and I think it's imperative that we move forward," Khalilzad said. "We will begin to consult and we expect to have a draft resolution introduced perhaps before the end of the week."
Last month's visit by UN legal chief Nicolas Michel confirmed that "for all practical purposes the domestic route to ratification had reached a dead end, with no prospect for a meeting of parliament to complete formal ratification," Saniora said.
He also noted that despite the opposition's stated support for the tribunal, it refused to discuss any reservations about the statutes with Michel.
"In light of the above, the Lebanese government believes that the time has come for the Security Council to help make the special tribunal for Lebanon a reality," Saniora said.
The issue of an international tribunal that would try suspects in the February 2005 assassination of Hariri and 22 others has sharply polarized Lebanon. It is at the core of a deep political crisis between the government and opposition groups - a conflict that has taken on an increasingly sectarian tone and erupted into street battles, killing 11 people in recent months.
A Security Council decision to create a tribunal is bound to further deepen the power struggle between the Western-backed government and Hizbullah-led opposition.
Asked whether the United States was concerned that establishing the tribunal could ignite a civil war in Lebanon, Khalilzad said, "I think it's very important for there to be justice done with regard to attacks that have taken place, crimes that have been committed."
"It's also very important in terms of the future longer-term stability of Lebanon that such actions be deterred through the judicial process that the tribunal involves," he said. "So we believe that for the stability of Lebanon, for the success of the democracy in Lebanon, it's very important that this tribunal be established."
Khalilzad stressed that the US decision to introduce the resolution "is being done at the request of the legitimate government" and the majority of the members of parliament.