|Damascus ordered to cooperate or else
|Syria faces sanctions if it fails to detain suspects in hariri killing
A strong resolution was adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council Monday, demanding Syria's full and unconditional cooperation with the UN probe into the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.
Although it refers to Chapter VII of the UN charter, which authorizes the use of military force, Security Council Resolution 1636 does not include a direct threat of sanctions against Syria, warning instead of possible "further action" if Syria doesn't comply.
Earlier drafts of the resolution, drafted by the U.S., France and Britain, had called for economic and diplomatic sanctions, but were removed in order to gain the support of Russia and China, veto wielding Council members.
Resolution 1636 was immediately criticized by Syria as "biased" and "unfair." Engaging in a heated debate with U.K. Foreign Minister Jack Straw, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa repeatedly insisted that Syria's cooperation with the UN investigating committee was "complete," and that his country was prepared to provide evidence of its full cooperation in a closed meeting.
Straw called Syrian claims of cooperation an "embarrassment," warning Damascus that the Council's "patience has limits."
"If Syria does not meet these conditions, it would be a major political error. It is pretty friendless at the moment," he said.
"The message around the table today was very clear: cooperate, or you'll be back, Syria," Straw told BBC television from New York. "In terms of all its key operational paragraphs, this resolution is unamended from earlier drafts and it's very tough."
Straw said the resolution was "very clear, too, on Syria. They've got to cooperate with the prosecutor, down to and including the arrest and detention of suspects named by the prosecutor, so that the prosecutor is then able to interview those suspects in a manner that the prosecutor chooses - not that the government of Syria chooses."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Syria's failure to comply with the resolution "will lead to serious consequences from the international community."
The resolution calls for Damascus to detain all of its nationals named as suspects in the Hariri killing, and urges all member states to impose a travel ban and freeze any assets of these individuals.
It further warns that if Damascus fails to cooperate with the UN probe, the council "if necessary, could consider further action."
With the passing of the resolution, the UN commission will now be able to choose "the location and modalities for interview of Syrian officials and individuals it deems relevant to the enquiry."
Following recent statements by the Syrian regime that it will cooperate fully with the probe, the resolution says the Council "expects the Syrian government to implement in full the commitment it is now taking."
Syrian President Bashar Assad on Saturday formed a Syrian probe into the assassination, which will "question Syrian civilians and military personnel on all matters relating to the UN investigation."
Some 11 foreign ministers from Council member countries, or their deputies, traveled to New York for the meeting.
According to Rice, "the Syrian government needs to make a strategic decision to fundamentally change its behavior" after Syria has "actively and consistently worked to break the will of the Lebanese people."
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy called for Syria to "cooperate fully" with the UN investigation, to ensure that "full light is shed as quickly as possible" on the assassination.
While stressing that the assassination would not go unpunished, Algerian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jedaoui said the council must avoid any "hasty" or "immature decision."
"Let's accept Syria's offer to cooperate with the investigation and put our confidence in the credibility of the committee," he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, "Differences between members of the Council shouldn't be a pretext not to comply with the resolution." However, China said it would be "inappropriate" to threaten Syria with sanctions.
"China always urges that no use or threat of sanctions be allowed in international relations," said Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing.
According to the Interfax news agency, a Russian source had said shortly before the council meeting that his country could veto the UN resolution.
"Russia could vote against the draft resolution, if in the course of the continuing discussions ... the UN Security Council does not fully consider all Russian objections to the document," the agency quoted its source as saying.
Russia, an economic partner of Syria, said on several occasions that it was against threatening Damascus with economic sanctions.
Jordan urged Syria to cooperate with the UN probe to avoid a confrontation and fresh tension in the region. "Jordan firmly believes every country and party should cooperate with the [UN] report until we reach the truth," said Jordan's Deputy Premier Marwan Moasher.
Detlev Mehlis, head of the UN probe team, reportedly returned to Beirut late Monday.
The Daily Star