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French Version

Annan says Assad will cooperate with UN probe

Rice: 'One way or another, I hope that Syria is going to cooperate'

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Sunday that Syrian President Bashar Assad's recent speech affirms that he "will cooperate with the commission of enquiry" investigating the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

During a brief visit to Kuwait, Assad had said that his country has extended full cooperation to the UN probe headed by Detlev Mehlis, and he pledged that his country will carry on with this cooperation.

He had also said: "Whatever we do or say to cooperate, the response is just going to be in a month that Syria is not cooperating. We have to be realistic, Syria is being targeted."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeated the Bush administration's criticism of Assad's speech and Syria's "stonewalling" of the investigations, saying such moves are "just not going to cut it."

Speaking during a joint conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on Sunday, Rice said: "What I have seen so far [from Syria] is a lot of criticism of the process, criticism of the investigation." She added: "One way or another, I hope that Syria is going to cooperate."

Mehlis had requested to interrogate six top Syrian security officers including Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, in the UN probe's headquarters at Monteverde in Lebanon, yet Syria rejected the location and suggested other alternatives.

Consequently, Syria and UN investigators "have failed to reach agreement on where Syrian officials can be interviewed" over the murder of Hariri, the Syrian news agency SANA reported Sunday.

"Riad Daoudi, legal advisor at the ministry and Mehlis did not reach agreement on a location for the interrogation of Syrian individuals or on how it would work," said a Foreign Ministry official, cited by SANA.

Daoudi had secretly met with Mehlis last week to reach a solution to the whereabouts of the interrogation place, but with no success.

"Mehlis refused to look at a Syrian offer that the interrogations take place in Syria or under the banner of the Arab League in Cairo," the official added.

Daoudi told Mehlis Syria felt this could cause internal problems in Lebanon and affect Syrian-Lebanese relations, the official said, adding that "Mehlis refused to discuss this issue. None of the issues that [Daoudi] raised were agreed upon."

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa said Saturday that his country had a "suitable location" for the interrogation citing the UN observer force's headquarters in the Golan Heights.

Sharaa also said that the interrogation of the Syrian officers in Lebanon might cause demonstrations and threaten security.

"We want to avoid this and it is in the interest of all to avoid it ... We do not want to see demonstrations ... in Lebanon due to these interviews that Mehlis is to hold."

"Syria will cooperate fully with the international committee headed by Mehlis and we have no reservations, except for the [preservation] of Syria's sovereignty," Sharaa added.

Mehlis had left Lebanon to Berlin early Friday for a personal visit; he is expected to go to the UN headquarters in New York before coming back to Beirut by the end of this week.

Also on Sunday, Chouf MP and one of the leading members of the opposition Walid Jumblatt called upon the "Syrian regime to extend unconditioned full cooperation" to Mehlis.

Jumblatt added that Lebanon and Syria "have no problems in the relations between their people. The problem is with the Syrian regime, which has to comply with the UN Security Council Resolution 1636."

The resolution calls upon Syria to extend full and unconditioned cooperation to the UN probe.

Jumblatt had recently arrived in Beirut after a two-day visit to Barcelona where he was a guest of honor at the EU Parliamentary Socialist group panel.

Meanwhile, the Free Patriotic Movement's leader, MP Michel Aoun criticized Assad's speech, which lashed-out at Lebanon's Premier Fouad Siniora, and the Lebanese people.

Aoun said: "Siniora is no one's slave, and I want to clarify one thing, "The Lebanese are good forgiving people and that is enough," he said. "Despite all wrongdoings and harms done against them, the Lebanese people had the capacity to forgive Syria. It is also regrettable that Assad has called upon some of the Lebanese people to back him up against the UN."

Siniora had said Saturday that there was no need to pressure on Syria and that the "strongest way to get Syria to cooperate is through Resolution 1636."

Also on Saturday, Lebanese Justice Minister Charles Rizk said that Mehlis informed him that he had met with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud earlier this month.

"It is not the first time" said Rizk, revealing that they had met two months ago at the request of Lahoud himself, adding that this meeting shows the "Lebanese will to cooperate."

Lahoud was visited by two of the international investigators on Friday, "upon the president's request," said a presidential statement Saturday.

The two investigators listened to Lahoud's statement, and "The president hoped that the investigations would proceed in their work. He also asked for the extradition from France of a Syrian citizen who impersonated a Syrian intelligence officer."

The Syrian, Zuheir Siddiq was at one point a key witness in Mehlis' investigations before he was proven a liar and Mehlis named him a "suspect" in his report.

Beirut 14-11-2005
Leila Hatoum
The Daily Star

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