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French Version

Top U.S. official insists 'ball is now in the Syrian court'

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Dibble reiterated on Monday her country's
demand that Syria cooperate fully with
the UN investigation into the assassination
of former Lebanese Premier Rafik

"The ball is now in the Syrian court to cooperate," said Dibble during a two-day visit to Lebanon, where she presided over the inauguration of this year's "Made in America" fair for U.S. products.

The annual trade fair was greeted unexpectedly by a group of demonstrators gathered outside the exhibition center, protesting U.S. policies in Iraq.

But Dibble's focus remained fixed on Syria, which has six weeks to cooperate with the UN probe led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis or face serious consequences outlined in Security Council Resolution 1636, passed unanimously last week by the Council's member states.

"We very much hope that the government of Syria will cooperate with Judge Mehlis in his investigation and that at the end of the day there will be answers and that the perpetrators of the crime will be brought to justice," Dibble told reporters after a meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh.

The foreign minister welcomed Dibble's visit, saying: "The Lebanese government conveyed its commitment to the truth and the investigation and hence asked for the extension of Mehlis mandate to December 15, and we may even ask for a longer extension until the whole truth comes out."

When asked what is needed from Syria to be considered cooperative, Dibble said: "I think Mr. Mehlis spelled that out quite clearly in his report and UN Security Council Resolution 1636 reinforces that the international community is behind the investigation commission's Mehlis report and what he's looking for."

Dibble welcomed Syria's decision to conduct its own probe into the assassination, saying: "It's never too late to set up an investigation, but the important thing is that Syria cooperates with Judge Mehlis, and whatever happens with their own investigation will feed into that."

Dibble also dismissed any comparisons between U.S. and Syrian interference in Lebanese politics. "We have no desire to tell the people of Lebanon what they should do or how they should govern. This is up to the Lebanese people and ultimately those who you elect to represent you in your government. There is a difference between supporting friends and interfering in domestic affairs," she said.

Dibble was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Finance Minister Jihad Azour and Justice Minister Charles Rizk on Tuesday. She had no meeting scheduled with President Emile Lahoud.

When asked why she would not meet the president, Dibble said: "I'm seeing some officials. I'm not seeing everyone."

Dibble was last in Lebanon in July, when she pledged U.S. support for the newly elected Lebanese government.

Beirut 06-11-2005
Rym Ghazal
The Daily Star

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