Military action against Syria is “last choice”, says Bush

US President George W. Bush said he hoped Syria would co-operate with a probe into the killing of ex-Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and said military action by Washington was a last resort. "A military (option) is always the last choice of a president," he told Al-Arabiya television in an interview aired yesterday when asked about a UN investigation report that implicated Syrian officials in Hariri's murder.

"I am hoping that they will cooperate. It (military) is the last very last option ... But on the other hand, you know and I've worked hard for diplomacy and will continue to work the diplomatic angle on this issue."

German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis briefed the 15-nation UN Security Council at an open meeting yesterday on his three-month inquiry. His written report, released last Thursday, said the decision to kill Hariri, an opponent of Syrian domination over Lebanon "could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials."

Syria has vigorously denied the accusations.

Diplomats said the United States and France were working on a resolution demanding Syria co-operate with the investigation but may not seek to impose sanctions immediately.

Mehlis criticized Syria's co-operation with his inquiry on the February 14 assassination in Beirut, saying he needed to conduct interviews outside of Syria and "for interviewees not to be accompanied by Syrian officials."

Speaking en route to Canada for a one-day visit, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Monday she hoped ministers, possibly meeting next week at the United Nations, would send a strong signal to Syria that its behaviour over Lebanon would not be tolerated, reports China Daily. I.L.

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