War : Syria : UN balks at U.S. pressure


Richard Moore


Security Council Split Over Resolution on Syria 

By Colum Lynch and Robin Wright 
Washington Post Staff Writers 
Tuesday, October 25, 2005; A13 

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 24 -- Western nations working on a
resolution to pressure Syria to cooperate with a U.N.
investigation into the slaying of former Lebanese prime
minister Rafiq Hariri are encountering resistance from
other Security Council members -- principally Algeria,
China and Russia -- U.S., European and U.N officials said

In a bid to maintain pressure on Syria, the Bush
administration is calling for foreign ministers from the
15 Security Council countries to meet in New York on Oct.
31 for the final vote on the resolution and to rally
support for Lebanon's attempt to bring perpetrators of
Hariri's killing to justice, the State Department said

President Bush warned Syria that failure to comply with
the United Nations will lead to isolation. "We want people
to be held to account," Bush said in an interview Monday
with al-Arabiya television, adding that "the Syrian
government must take the demands of the free world very

A preliminary report by Detlev Mehlis, a German prosecutor
leading a U.N. probe into the Feb. 14 car-bomb killing of
Hariri and 22 others, has concluded that senior Syrian
officials were almost certainly behind it. Mehlis is
scheduled to be questioned Tuesday on his findings at a
meeting of the Security Council, where the United States
and France will make their case for the passage next week
of a resolution demanding Syria's full cooperation with
the continuing investigation.

The United States and France both favor the passage of a
resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, a
provision that traditionally empowers the council to
impose sanctions and, in some cases, to use military
force, to compel cooperation.

But China, which wields veto power, and other council
members argued Monday that it would be premature to
consider punishing Damascus before Mehlis concludes his
investigation on Dec. 15 and the perpetrators are found

China's U.N ambassador, Guangya Wang, said that compelling
Syria's cooperation through the threat of sanctions is
unnecessary because Syria has publicly agreed to
cooperate. He also noted that Mehlis has indicated the
presumption that key suspects in the assassination are
innocent until proved guilty in a court of law.

Wang expressed concern over the U.S. and French preference
for adopting their resolution under Chapter 7, saying it
raised the threat of sanctions. "I think we have to be
very careful with Chapter 7," Wang said. "Chapter 7 is the
dog that will bite, not just bark."

Algeria's envoy, Abdallah Baali, the lone Arab diplomat on
the council, said it is premature to threaten sanctions
against Syria, or to even blame the country's political
leaders, before those responsible for Hariri's murder are
brought to justice, according to a Security Council

John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations,
and senior French officials separately pressed him to
support a resolution that would at least require Syria's
cooperation with the probe.

Arab and Islamic countries are wary of invoking sanctions,
which have been used against Muslim governments, including
Libya, Sudan, the former Iraqi government and
Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers, over the past 15
years. "That's pretty cold company," the State Department
official said.

In an attempt to close the gap with Russia, Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice talked by telephone over the
weekend to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a critical
player because Moscow is also balking at a tough
resolution, U.S. officials said.

The emerging reticence presents a challenge to U.S.
efforts to use Mehlis's findings to rally the 15-nation
council for tough action, and it threatened to undercut
the sense of urgency generated Friday by Bush's calls for

In an effort to bridge the differences, France urged the
United States to avoid an immediate confrontation with
Syria's backers over the possibility of sanctions, and to
instead begin a gradual diplomatic campaign aimed at
uniting the council behind a series of tough measures that
could be supported unanimously.

French officials want to start with a cautious resolution
that would include an endorsement of Mehlis's report and
his ongoing probe, express support for fragile Lebanon's
quest for justice and possibly call for officials to be
interviewed outside Syria. Another option is to freeze the
assets of Syrian officials named in the Mehlis report and
impose a travel ban on them, officials said.

"We have here an opportunity to do justice with an
independent inquiry," France's Foreign Minister Philippe
Douste-Blazy said Monday. "Let's go to the end . . . if we
need to make it longer, let's do it, and afterwards let's
see what the consequences should be, including on the
question . . . of sanctions."

U.S. officials concede that they may have to compromise in
negotiations this week, but they continued to press for
the inclusion of a stronger threat of punitive action in
their resolution to assure Damascus's cooperation.

Rice suggested to reporters en route to Canada on Monday
that the United States may be willing to support French
calls for a phased approach. "This is all about Syrian
behavior, but if people want to sequence it, fine, we can
sequence it," she said. The world "must make very clear to
the Syrians that this is a really serious matter and that
their nonchalant attitude, their efforts to discredit the
investigation . . . are not the attitude of the
international community," Rice added.

Bolton expressed confidence that the council will adopt a
tough resolution in "the next week or so." He said in an
interview today that he is meeting individually with key
council members to outline Washington's "general thinking"
on a U.S.- and French-sponsored resolution that would send
an "unmistakable message" to Syria that "they have to
cooperate with the Mehlis commission."

"We'll be looking to see how to maintain that pressure
during the coming days as we, of course, listen to the
Mehlis report tomorrow," Bolton told reporters following a
council meeting on Kosovo. "This is true confessions time
now for the government of Syria. No more obstruction, no
more half measures. We want substantive cooperation, and
we want it immediately."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company 


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