US ambassador: "We want substantive cooperation and we want it immediately."
By JERUSALEM POST STAFFThe United States and France said Monday they are trying to mobilize support for a UN resolution demanding Syria's full cooperation with the investigation into the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
"This is true confessions time now for the government of Syria," US Ambassador John Bolton said. "No more obstruction. No more half measures. We want substantive cooperation and we want it immediately."
French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said the UN Security Council must use "its weight" to discover "the whole truth" following last week's report by UN investigator Detlev Mehlis that found evidence of Syrian involvement in Hariri's assassination and a lack of cooperation from Damascus.
Mehlis is scheduled to brief the council on the report Tuesday, where Syria's alleged role in Hariri's killing and its cooperation in the investigation are certain to come under renewed criticism.
UN Secretary-General Annan has extended Mehlis' investigation until Dec. 15. He reiterated Monday that the report was just the beginning of a process, and when Mehlis completes his work "the magistrates and the judges will have to do theirs."
The United States and France, who worked together on last year's resolution demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, said they were consulting other council members on the report and the elements a new resolution would include.
De La Sabliere sidestepped a question on whether a new resolution would go beyond demanding Syrian cooperation to threatening further measures, which could include sanctions. "What is important is to have an effective action of the council and we are working on it," he said.
While the United States, France and Britain have strongly supported Mehlis' findings and demand for Syrian cooperation, Russia and China, who also have veto power on the powerful Security Council, have been much more reticent.
"My government is always very cautious with such sensitive issues as Syria-Lebanon," Russia's UN Ambassador Andrey Denisov said Monday.
Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin warned in a statement Saturday that "the settlement of this problem should in no way lead to the emergence of a new hotbed of tension and further destabilization in the Middle East."
China's UN Ambassador Wang Guangya told reporters: "We are still studying the report so I don't want to make any comments now. ... It needs careful study."
The Mehlis report accused key Syrian and Lebanese security officials of orchestrating the Feb. 14 bombing that killed Hariri and 20 others. Mehlis acknowledged that he deleted references implicating the brother and brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Assad because he didn't know the report would be made public and the allegations were not corroborated.
The report said Syria's cooperation in form - but not substance - "impeded the investigation and made it difficult to follow leads." To complete the probe, the Syrian government must fully cooperate with investigators, including by allowing Syrians to be interviewed alone outside Syria, it said.
Mehlis' findings caused an uproar in the region and brought swift denials from the Syrian government, which called it biased, politicized and an American plot to take over the region.
Annan told reporters Monday morning that he planned to raise the issue of Syria's cooperation with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, who had asked to meet him on Tuesday. But shortly afterwards, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced that al-Sharaa would not be coming.
Syria's UN Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad said al-Sharaa was planning to come to New York because it was originally thought that Tuesday's council meeting would be at ministerial level, but when the foreign minister learned it was at ambassadorial level "there was no need for him to come at this stage."
Al-Sharaa was accused in the Mehlis report of lying in a letter to the investigating commission, whose contents were not disclosed.
Mekdad told the Associated Press the letter contained Syria's account of a meeting in Damascus on Aug. 26, 2004 between Assad and Hariri about extending the term of Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud, which required changing the constitution.
Mehlis quoted Lebanese officials and Hariri's son as saying Assad threatened the former prime minister if he didn't support the constitutional change while Syria reported the meeting in a positive light.
Mekdad defended al-Sharaa's letter saying it "depicted exactly what happened in that meeting," calling Mehlis' contention that the Syrian view was false "very strange and unacceptable."
The Syrian ambassador reiterated that his country had fully cooperated with all of Mehlis' "demands," and he indicated the cooperation would continue though the government would have to consider the request to interview Syrians alone outside the country.
"We shall cooperate with Mr. Mehlis, but when he interviewed many people in Lebanon they had with them their lawyers, so why this double standard? Is it really acceptable that any accused goes there without a lawyer?," Mekdad asked. "We will consider all these things."
Bolton said the United States would like to move as quickly as possible on a resolution, but needed to consult with a number of governments first.
"I think there's a very high degree of unity and purpose in the consultations we've had so far to insist that in particular the government of Syria fully cooperate with the Mehlis commission and not continue to obstruct the work of the commission," he said. "We'll be looking to see how to maintain that pressure during the coming days."
Britain's UN Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said the report must be taken seriously by "anybody who cares about Syria and Lebanon."
Asked whether he envisioned any opposition to a resolution demanding Syria's cooperation with the Mehlis investigation, he said, "I would certainly hope there was no objection to that one."