RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
A United Nations report is due out this week into last February's assassination in Beirut of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria has been implicated in the killing. The UN's investigating team has named four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals as suspects and questioned several Syrian officials. As NPR's Deborah Amos reports, tensions are high in both Syria and Lebanon in anticipation of the report's findings.
DEBORAH AMOS reporting:
The one-ton car bomb that killed Rafik Hariri and nine others in February has already had disastrous consequences for Syria. Mass street protests and international pressure forced Syrian troops out of Lebanon in April. An initial UN investigation by an Irish police commissioner stopped short of naming names, but said Syria was responsible for the atmosphere that led to Hariri's death. Now a German prosecutor, Detlef Mehlis, who heads the latest UN investigation, is expected to go further. It is a crisis for Syria, says Nadim Shehadi, head of the Middle East program at Chatham House, a London think tank.
Mr. NADIM SHEHADI (Head, Chatham House): It is behaving like a government that's completely in disarray wi--in all their--in their declarations, in their actions, the attacks on Lebanese politicians, especially. They--I think they're very threatened by the--whatever the military report will come up with.
AMOS: According to news reports this weekend, Damascus has quietly reached out to the Russian and Chinese governments to head off possible UN sanctions. Syria's ambassador to Britain, Sami Khigami, says Arab governments, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are arguing Syria's case in Washington.
Ambassador SAMI KHIGAMI (Syria): I think they say we need Syria for stability in the Middle East and we will be completely under danger of chaos, and they need a stable Syria.
AMOS: There are no signs of chaos, but definite cracks in Syria's powerful security service, after the reported suicide of Gazi Kenaan, Syria's veteran intelligence chief in Lebanon. Kenaan died a few weeks after UN investigators questioned him. `A man who knew too much,' says Ned Walker with the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
Mr. NED WALKER (Middle East Institute): It was a little too convenient. A few days before the Mehlis report comes out, here's this guy who has been running Lebanon for 20 years, suddenly commits suicide. It just sounds like the story's going to be that here was a guy who was a rogue. It's not us.
AMOS: But potential suspects go beyond Kenaan. Other include Syrian security officials who had roles in Lebanon as well as President Bashar Al-Assad's inner circle, which means his family. The question is: Will he hand them over for trial if named in the UN report? Again, Ned Walker.
Mr. WALKER: They've got to clean house. They've got to change their way of living and their way of governing if they want to survive in this modern world.
AMOS: The pressures on Syria are enormous. A British newspaper reported a deal is in the works. According to unnamed sources, the Bush administration offered to lift Syria's isolation in return for what was called `painful concessions,' including ending support for militants crossing into Iraq. Syrian officials have denied any deal. Syria's ambassador in London says Syria doesn't need one.
Amb. KHIGAMI: What for do we need a deal? We are innocent of the Hariri assassination. It is not that, that they want. They want to subdue the will of Syria as an independent country. They want it as a puppet state.
AMOS: Whatever the outcome, expect a crisis, says Nadim Shehadi with Chatham House, if not in Syria, then in Lebanon, where anti-Syrian politicians blame Damascus for Hariri's death. The Syrian media has sent this warning.
Mr. SHEHADI: All these opposition figures in Lebanon are collaborating with the Israelis and the Americans. And when the military report comes out, this is when they will have to pay up and they will have to go to prison or whatever.
AMOS: As for Syria, Ambassador Khigami believes Washington will continue the pressure no matter what the UN investigation reveals.
Amb. KHIGAMI: They are united in the pressures. Whether they are united in changing the regime or not, I don't know. I think they don't know.
AMOS: But he does know that much depends on the Mehlis report due this week. Deborah Amos, NPR News, London.
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