President Bashar Assad, invoking Syria's national sovereignty, indicated Saturday he would not submit to an interview request from the U.N. investigation into Rafik Hariri's assassination. In a speech to the Arab Lawyers Union, Assad pledged, however, to continue cooperation with the international probe the former Lebanese premier's assassination. The U.N. investigation has said Syria has not been sufficiently forthcoming and the Security Council demanded full cooperation.
"The issue of national sovereignty is paramount, not the (U.N.) Security Council decision or others," Assad said. The Syrian leader did not specifically address the request by the U.N. investigation for an interview with him and his foreign minister about threats Assad allegedly made against Hariri months before the Feb. 14 assassination.
That left open the possibility that he might later agree to meet with U.N. investigators, rather than submit to an interview. Assad has rejected an earlier request by the seven-month-old investigation to interview him and said on Saturday that the issue of national sovereignty supersedes any legal and political considerations.
"We should not give up our national sovereignty even if the circumstance requires that we fight for our country. We must be prepared for that." In November, Assad criticized the investigation as politicized by the United States and its allies with the aim of framing Syria to punish it for its opposition to the Iraq war, support for Palestinian militants and Lebanese guerrillas. He declared Syria's innocence in the murder and said he will cooperate with the investigation but will stop if Syrian interests are harmed.
Assad repeated Syria's pledges to cooperate with the investigation into the assassination, which led to international pressure that forced Syria to withdraw its army from Lebanon in April, ending nearly three decades of political and military control of the neighboring country. "We will continue to cooperate with the investigation currently and in the future in order to find the truth," he said in the speech that met with repeated applause and shouts of support. The investigation has split the Lebanese people and heightened tension between Syria and the United States. In two interim reports last year, the U.N commission implicated top Lebanese and Syrian security officials in the killing of Hariri. While Lebanon praised the commission's reports, Syria rejected its findings and tried to discredit its witnesses.
The U.N. Security Council has twice found that Syria failed to cooperate fully. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, has warned Syria that the council will take steps against Damascus unless it complies fully with the commission's requests. Assad warned that Syria will not fall into "this political-legal game" and will not heed the pressure to change its policies. "When they demand unlimited cooperation the purpose is to seek cooperation against our interests," Assad said.
"Those who believe that by politicizing the investigation and taking it in different direction can push Syria to carry out what they want are wasting their time and are missing the right opportunity to bring about stability to the region, which will have a negative impact on them," he said in an apparent reference to the United States, reports the AP. N.U.