U.N. Security Council divided over tough Syria resolution on eve of crucial vote
UNITED NATIONS – The United States, France and Britain remained at odds with Russia and China Sunday on a tough U.N. resolution demanding that Syria cooperate with a probe into the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister or face possible sanctions.But U.S. Ambassador John Bolton predicted the resolution will be approved at a Security Council meeting on Monday to be attended by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other foreign ministers.Rice and her counterparts from the four other veto-wielding Security Council powers were expected to meet Sunday evening to discuss the resolution, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting is private. It would be the last opportunity to change the text ahead of Monday morning’s Security Council vote.Foreign ministers from almost all 15 council nations were expected to cast votes, a high-level presence that Washington and its allies hope will send a message to Damascus of the serious international concern at its failure to cooperate in the probe of Rafik Hariri’s assassination.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.All 15 Security Council members support the resolution’s demand for Syria’s full cooperation, but the United States, France and Britain are insisting on the threat of sanctions to put added pressure on Syria to comply.Russia, China and Algeria, a non-permanent council member and its only Arab representative, oppose the threat of sanctions, saying it’s too early since the investigation has been extended until Dec. 15 and no final results have been produced.Bolton said Friday the resolution has the nine “yes” votes required for adoption, and will likely have more by the time of the vote. “I don’t foresee a veto,” he said.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.”The draft resolution strongly backs a report by the U.N. investigating commission led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, which implicated top Syrian and Lebanese security officials in the Feb. 14 bombing that killed Hariri and 20 others and accused Syria of not cooperating fully with the probe.The resolution would require Syria to detain anyone the U.N. investigators consider a suspect and to 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.In Qatar on Sunday, he told reporters the resolution was prepared in Washington, Paris and London prior to the release of the U.N. investigation.SANA quoted him as saying the resolution was “dangerous” and aimed at hurting Syria, not uncovering the truth in the Hariri assassination. But Moallem said that Syria will “continue to cooperate” with the U.N. investigation despite “legal and political gaps in its report.”While Syria has rejected accusations of its involvement in Hariri’s killing, Assad on Saturday ordered a judicial committee be formed to investigate Hariri’s assassination. The announcement follows Mehlis’ call for Syria to conduct its own investigation into the assassination to help “fill in the gaps” about who orchestrated the terrorist act.—-Associated Press Writer Samar Kassabli contributed to this report from Damascus, Syria.