U.N. May Probe Lebanese Prime Minister Murder
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The United Nations Security Council is deciding whether to establish an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister. The government has been unable to break a domestic political deadlock over establishing that court, so now the UN is poised to get into the tricky world of Lebanese politics, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: In a letter to the U.N. secretary general this week, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said he's reached a dead end. The speaker of parliament, he explained, refused to convene a session to formally set up the tribunal.
The United States says the Security Council precedent this month and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is promising to respond quickly to establish the court.
Ambassador ZALMAY KHALILZAD (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations): We should have a draft resolution - if not late Friday, sometime early next week.
KELEMEN: What precisely the Security Council resolution will say is still being debated among the experts, he says. The U.S. wants to give U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon some real flexibility in case Lebanese parties can't agree on the next steps - where to hold the tribunal or how to fund it. Ban Ki-Moon has said the Security Council should follow up on the letter from Lebanon's prime minister.
Secretary General BAN KI-MOON (United Nations): As a matter of principle, there should be no impunity for the perpetrators for political assassinations.
KELEMEN: The stage is set for some tough negotiations, though. U.N. investigators have implicated Lebanese and Syrian officials in the murder of Hariri. And the issue of the tribunal has been a divisive one between the current Lebanese government and the Syrian-backed Hezbollah.
A spokeswoman for the Russian ambassador to the United Nations says the tribunal should be supported by all parties in Lebanon, and the Security Council shouldn't be backing one side or another.
Flynt Leverett of the New America Foundation says there are political risks to U.N. action.
Dr. FLYNT LEVERETT (Senior Fellow, New America Foundation): If you push for this under U.N. auspices without a prior political agreement in Lebanon, you're really risking further polarization of an already quite strained political environment.
KELEMEN: Leverett, a former White House aide, says the Bush administration has never been realistic enough in its understanding of Lebanese politics. He also thinks the U.S. has romanticized the 2005 uprising that forced Syrian troops out.
Dr. LEVERETT: The administration believes that getting Syrian troops out of Lebanon in the wake of Prime Minister Hariri's assassination two years ago is one of its major successes in the region. And it's determined to see it through.
KELEMEN: And that means setting up the tribunal as quickly as possible. Ambassador Khalilzad says he's heard the debate about all the risks, and he's decided the tribunal is the best way forward.
Ambassador KHALILZAD: Some involved in the region and in Lebanon have said as much that it's going to destabilize the situation and lead to more violence. On the other side, of course, is that if you don't do the tribunal, there are risks as well.
KELEMEN: Khalilzad says Lebanon faces a greater threat in the long run if those involved in the car bombing that killed Rafik Hariri in 2005 are not brought to justice.
Mr. KHALILZAD: Doing it will hopefully deter such actions in the future in Lebanon and elsewhere.
KELEMEN: And he says despite all the concerns, the prospects are improving for the Security Council to set up the tribunal.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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