U.S., France and Britain expect U.N. approves tough resolution against Syria

The United States, France and Britain expect that the U.N. Security Council will approve a tough resolution, France and Britain expect that the U.N. Security Council will approve a tough resolution demanding that Syria cooperate with the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Ahead of Monday's vote, foreign ministers from the three countries dined with their counterparts from Russia and China who oppose the resolution's threat of sanctions if Syria refuses to cooperate with probe.

The dinner Sunday night at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, provided a last chance for the five permanent veto-wielding council members to discuss the resolution.

The United States, France and Britain co-sponsored the resolution to follow up last week's report by a U.N. investigating commission which implicated top Syrian and Lebanese security officials in the Feb. 14 bombing in Beirut that killed Hariri and 20 others and accused Syria of not cooperating fully with the probe.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said Friday the resolution has the nine "yes" votes required for approval, and will likely have more by the time of the vote. "I don't foresee a veto," he said, a view echoed by his French and British co-sponsors.

But council diplomats said that if Washington, Paris and London want to get unanimous support from all 15 council nations, which would send a more powerful message to Syria, they will have to drop the sanctions threat.

Otherwise, the resolution will likely be adopted with 12 "yes" votes and three abstentions, by Russia, China, and Algeria, a non-permanent council member and its only Arab representative, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk ahead of the vote.

There was no immediate word from the five ministers on their two-hour dinner meeting attended by Rice, Russia's Sergey Lavrov, China's Li Zhaoxing, Britain's Jack Straw and France's Philippe Douste-Blazy. Lavrov and Li, who met alone for about 45 minutes before the dinner, refused to say how they will vote on Monday. "Just wait and see," said Li.

The United States urged foreign ministers of all 15 Security Council nations to come to New York for the vote to send a high-level message to Damascus that the international community is demanding its cooperation with the probe, and almost all the ministers are coming. Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said that adoption of the resolution by foreign ministers "is to show the intensity of the concern, and to make it very clear at the highest level what we expect."

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa also flew to New York Sunday to attend the council meeting and meet with some of the foreign ministers and Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The latest draft would require Syria to detain anyone the U.N. investigators consider a suspect and let investigators determine the location and conditions under which the individual would be questioned. It would freeze assets and impose a travel ban on anyone identified as a suspect by the commission.

If Syria does not fully cooperate with the investigation, the draft says the council intends to consider "further measures," including sanctions, "to ensure compliance by Syria."

As al-Sharaa headed to New York, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Walid Moallem toured Gulf countries in what appeared to be an effort to rally Arab support ahead of Monday's council meeting.

Syria's official news agency, SANA, quoted Moallem as saying he was bearing a message from President Bashar Assad to the leaders of Gulf countries concerning "the dangers Syria faces" as a result of the U.N. action, reports the AP. I.L.