U.N. to vote on measure against Syria

Economic and diplomatic threats linger as Security Council seeks to solve Hariri killing.The Security Council is expected to pass a tough resolution today against Syria, increasing international pressure on the country's embattled president, Bashar Assad, and deepening his government's struggle to ward off increasing isolation.

The measure threatens Syria with economic sanctions if it doesn't cooperate fully with the U.N. inquiry that has identified high-ranking Syrian security officials as suspects in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri.

The measure also orders Syria to apprehend people suspected of involvement in the killing and to make them available to the U.N. investigators.

That provision in particular could pose a problem for Assad, a relatively inexperienced leader perceived as weak and vulnerable in the power politics of the Middle East. Among the suspects are his brother, Maher Assad, and his brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat. Shawkat, the chief of military intelligence, is considered the most powerful man in the country aside from the president.

Assad's government has been thrown on the defensive by an incriminating report on the Hariri killing delivered Oct. 20 by Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor who leads the U.N. investigation.

Hariri, an opponent of Syrian domination of Lebanese politics, and 22 others were killed Feb. 14 when a bomb was detonated in a Beirut street as his convoy passed. The murder was followed by large and angry demonstrations in Beirut against Syria, which eventually withdrew its troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon and ended its 29-year control of Lebanese public life.

This inability of Syria to enlist vocal defenders is reflected at the United Nations, where even countries on the Security Council that have trouble with some provisions of the resolution have agreed about the need to send Syria a stern message about its responsibility to cooperate with the international investigation.

"There is a unanimous feeling within the council that there must be greater cooperation from the Syrians," Richard Grenell, the spokesman for John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador, said Sunday.

Grenell declined to be specific about the anticipated outcome of today's vote, but he said that nothing had occurred during the weekend to alter optimistic statements on Friday night from Bolton who said "I don't foresee a veto."

The Security Council resolution, co-sponsored by Britain, France and the United States and first circulated last Monday, calls on all states to impose a travel ban and asset freeze on anyone who is designated a suspect in the Hariri slaying. A committee made up of all 15 Security Council member states would be established to oversee these individual penalties and to rule on approving exceptions in cases such as religious travel and emergency need, reports the New York Times. I.L.