U.N. Council Demands Syrian Cooperation in Inquiry

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approves a resolution demanding Syrian cooperation in the ongoing probe into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The United Nations is investigating Syria's alleged role in the killing.

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The United Nations Security Council demanded today that Syria give full cooperation as the UN investigates the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. The council's resolution lacked any provision for punishing Syria if it fails to cooperate, but it did endorse some of the investigator's strongest accusations. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from New York.

COREY FLINTOFF reporting:

The United States, France and Britain had pressed for a resolution that would threaten Syria with economic and political sanctions if it didn't help with the investigation conducted by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis. They finally agreed to drop the mention of sanctions in order to get other Security Council members, notably Russia, China and Algeria, on board and make the resolution unanimous. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called it a step toward holding Syria accountable.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (US State Department): The Chapter 7 resolution that we are passing today is the only way to compel the Syrian government to accept the just demands of the United Nations and to cooperate fully with the Mehlis investigation.

FLINTOFF: Rice emphasized that the resolution was passed under the provisions of Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which can include an authorization of the use of force. The countries that wanted a tough resolution also succeeded in getting language included that accuses the Syrians of obstructing the investigation. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Mr. JACK STRAW (British Foreign Secretary): The Syrian government appears to have attempted to mislead Prosecutor Mehlis and his team. And this grudging and evasive attitude has to change.

FLINTOFF: The resolution demands that Syria detain any suspects identified by the independent investigators. That could be difficult for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad because the Mehlis report issued last week identified his brother and brother-in-law as potential suspects. The countries that oppose threatening sanctions against Syria, including Russia, China and Algeria, pointed out that the Mehlis investigation is not yet over and said that talk of punishment for Syria was premature. Algerian Foreign Minister Mohammed Bedjaoui, speaking through an interpreter.

Mr. MOHAMMED BEDJAOUI (Foreign Minister, Algeria): (Through Translator) We have always thought that the resolution should be based on ways to help the investigation commission to complete its work, and not to spill over from this judicial framework especially by brandishing a hasty threat of sanctions.

FLINTOFF: Syria's foreign minister, Farouk al-Charaa, also speaking through an interpreter, gave a lengthy statement in which he vigorously denied any Syrian involvement in the assassination and accused the investigators of approaching the investigation with the presumption that Syria was guilty.

Mr. FAROUK AL-CHARAA (Foreign Minister, Syria): (Through Translator) The fundamental criticism of Syria of the commission's report is that it proceeds from the presumption that Syria is accused of committing this crime rather than a presumption of innocence.

FLINTOFF: After the Security Council session, Secretary of State Rice defended the resolution, saying it sends a strong signal to Syria that it's isolated in its position. Britain's Jack Straw was indignant about Charaa's speech and skeptical about whether Syria would comply.

Mr. STRAW: Like all colleagues, I look forward to the full cooperation by the government of Syria in substance as well as form with the Mehlis commission. But I have to say after what I've heard, I'm not holding my breath.

FLINTOFF: Syrian President Assad has now named his own commission to investigate the Hariri killing with a promise that it will cooperate fully with the UN probe. Today's UN resolution formally extended the Mehlis investigation until at least mid-December with a provision that it could go longer if necessary. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, New York.

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