Tuesday, November 01, 2005

U.N. Security Council OKs Syria Resolution

The United States, France and Britain pressed for the resolution following last week's tough report by the U.N. investigating commission, which implicated top Syrian and Lebanese security officials in the Feb. 14 bombing that killed Rafik Hariri and 20 others. The report also accused Syria of not cooperating fully with the inquiry.

The three co-sponsors agreed to drop a direct threat of sanctions against Syria in order to get support from Russia and China, which opposed sanctions while the investigation is still under way. Nonetheless, the resolution was adopted under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which is militarily enforceable.

The U.S. invited foreign ministers of the 15 Security Council nations to attend the meeting to send a strong message to Syria to cooperate with the inquiry. A dozen ministers showed up and voted in favor of the resolution.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the council after the vote that Syria had been put on notice by the international community that it must cooperate.

"Syria has offered no truthful explanations to these serious allegations," she said. "Instead it has chosen until now to dismiss the commission report as politically motivated."

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the Security Council is "putting the government of Syria on notice that our patience has limits."

"The people of the Lebanon have become all too acquainted with grief," he said. "We owe them a better future, and this resolution is one way of providing them with that better future."

The resolution requires Syria to detain anyone the U.N. investigators consider a suspect and let investigators determine the location and conditions under which the individual would be questioned. It also would freeze assets and impose a travel ban on anyone identified as a suspect by the commission.

Those provisions could pose a problem for Syrian President Bashar Assad, as well as his brother, Maher Assad, and his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, the chief of military intelligence. The Syrian leader has refused a request from the chief U.N. investigator to be interviewed. Investigators also want to question his brother and brother-in-law.

Although the final text dropped the threat of sanctions, it said if Syria doesn't cooperate "the council, if necessary, could consider further action." That could, ultimately, include sanctions.

In another concession to try to get Russia and China on board, the co-sponsors also agreed to drop an appeal to Syria to renounce all support "for all forms of terrorist action and all assistance to terrorist groups."

Syria, meanwhile, is pushing for an emergency Arab League summit in a bid to rally regional support in the face of the U.N. resolution, said Arab diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity because the request had not been officially made.

The diplomats, speaking at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, suggested a smaller gathering of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Lebanon and Egypt might be organized should other countries decline to participate out of concern over harming ties with the U.S., France and Britain.

The diplomats said Syrian Secretary-General Amr Moussa sent a special envoy to Gulf countries informing them of the Syrian request. They said Syria hoped for the meeting later this week, after the Muslim religious holiday that concludes the Ramadan month of fasting.

The Syrian media criticized the U.N. resolution before the vote Monday, with the English-language Syria Times saying it was "openly politicized" and too heavily influenced by the U.S.

"It's immoral and totally unacceptable that the will of the (international) community remains captive to a unilateral diktat and ... accepts tyranny and hegemony," the paper said.

Syria's official news agency, SANA, said Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Walid Moallem toured Gulf countries this past weekend bearing a message from the Syrian president concerning "the dangers Syria faces" as a result of the U.N. action.

SANA quoted Moallem as saying the resolution was "dangerous" and aimed at hurting Syria, not uncovering the truth in the Hariri assassination. But Moallem said that Syria will "continue to cooperate" with the U.N. investigation despite "legal and political gaps in its report."

Assad on Saturday ordered a judicial committee be formed to investigate Hariri's assassination. A presidential decree said the committee will cooperate with the U.N. inquiry and Lebanese judicial authorities.

While Syria has rejected accusations of its involvement in Hariri's killing, it buckled under international pressure and withdrew its soldiers from Lebanon in April, ending a 29-year presence in its smaller neighbor.

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