Syria’s foreign minister went before the UN Security Council and angrily rejected a resolution that had been passed unanimously just an hour before demanding that Damascus cooperate more fully with a probe into the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister.
Diplomats expressed shock on Monday at Farouk Al Sharaa’s response to the resolution that threatened possible “further measures” if Syria doesn’t start cooperating fully with the probe into the Feb. 14 bombing that killed Rafik Hariri and 20 others. They said his statement underscored Syria’s isolation and highlighted the necessity for the warning to Damascus.
The resolution, co-sponsored by the United States, Britain and France, requires Syria to detain anyone whom UN investigators consider a suspect in Hariri’s assassination. The investigators, led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, had concluded that Hariri’s slaying was unlikely to have occurred without senior Syrian approval.
It marked the culmination of council pressure on Syria to loosen its grip on Lebanon further in the months since Hariri’s assassination prompted Damascus to withdraw its troops in April, after 29 years.
Mehlis, whose mandate has been extended to Dec. 15, has also been given new authority by the council, and could seek to use it immediately. He is likely to seek to question Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brother-in-law, who has been implicated in the killing, and Assad’s brother, who is also under suspicion.
“I would like to say that the message of the Security Council is particularly clear: Syria must cooperate with the Security Council otherwise there will be consequences,” France’s Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said. “Justice shall prevail.”
The three co-sponsors had to drop the explicit threat of economic sanctions to win unanimous support for the resolution at a rare meeting Mondy of the foreign ministers from most of the council’s 15 members. Russia, China, Brazil and others had strongly opposed the sanctions threat.
Though the resolution was significantly weakened, Al Sharaa was defiant in his response to the council. He accused Mehlis’ earlier report to the council of essentially convicting Syria before it had faced trial.
“It proceeds from the presumption that Syria is accused of committing this crime rather than a presumption of innocence,” Al Sharaa said. He then claimed that accusing Syrian security forces of having advance knowledge of Hariri’s killing was tantamount to charging that US officials knew ahead of time about the Sept. 11 attacks, Spanish authorities knew in advance about the 2004 Madrid train bombings and the British government about this summer’s London subway and bus bombings. And he went a step further, raising questions about why Britain had trained for similar scenarios soon before the attacks occurred.
The comment visibly angered British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who called it “the most grotesque and insensitive comparison,” “appalling,” and “absurd.” He said any council member concerned about adopting the resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which is militarily enforceable, should have had their misgivings allayed by Al Sharaa, reports Khaleej Times. I.L.