Chirac to Syria: Stay out of Lebanon

Says any Syrian attempt to destabilize Lebanon will trigger int'l response.

Chirac298 (photo credit: AP[file])
(photo credit: AP[file])
French President Jacques Chirac warned Syria that the world will respond to any attempt to destabilize Lebanon as he began a visit Saturday to Saudi Arabia. Chirac was greeted at Riyadh's aiport by Saudi King Abdullah for three days of talks expected to deal with the crisis between Syria and Lebanon, the dispute over Iran's nuclear program and violence in Iraq. Ahead of the visit, Chirac made his warning to Damascus in an interview with the Arab daily Al-Hayat, published Saturday. "Syria must understand that any act that encroaches upon the stability of Lebanon, be it through the shipment of weapons or assassinations, is an act that contradicts with its standing in the international community and will trigger a response from the international community," he said. He also said Syria should fully cooperate with an international probe into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Saudi Arabia has also pressured Syria to cooperate in the UN investigation, which has already implicated top Syrian officials and their security allies in Lebanon in the February 14 assassination. The commission has requested to interview Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is alleged to have threatened Hariri in a private meeting several months before Hariri was killed. Assad, who has denied threatening Hariri, has so far indicated he is not prepared to be interviewed. The head of the team, Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, is scheduled to brief the UN Security Council on his progress on March 16. Many Lebanese blame Syria for Hariri's assassination in a truck bombing last year and for a series of mysterious bombings that has targeted Lebanese politicians and journalists opposed to Syria. Syria denies involvement in any of the attacks. Chirac, a close friend of Hariri, said in the interview that the former prime minister's assassination would not go unpunished. "The truth and justice are necessary for the sake of a new Lebanon," he said. "Those who are behind the assassinations (in Lebanon) must realize that those who are defending Lebanon's independence are not alone. The international community is with them and it is determined to succeed," Chirac said.