Security Council Split Over Resolution on Syria

By Colum Lynch and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 25, 2005

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 24 -- Western nations working on a resolution to pressure Syria to cooperate with a U.N. investigation into the slaying of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri are encountering resistance from other Security Council members -- principally Algeria, China and Russia -- U.S., European and U.N officials said Monday.

In a bid to maintain pressure on Syria, the Bush administration is calling for foreign ministers from the 15 Security Council countries to meet in New York on Oct. 31 for the final vote on the resolution and to rally support for Lebanon's attempt to bring perpetrators of Hariri's killing to justice, the State Department said Monday.

President Bush warned Syria that failure to comply with the United Nations will lead to isolation. "We want people to be held to account," Bush said in an interview Monday with al-Arabiya television, adding that "the Syrian government must take the demands of the free world very seriously."

A preliminary report by Detlev Mehlis, a German prosecutor leading a U.N. probe into the Feb. 14 car-bomb killing of Hariri and 22 others, has concluded that senior Syrian officials were almost certainly behind it. Mehlis is scheduled to be questioned Tuesday on his findings at a meeting of the Security Council, where the United States and France will make their case for the passage next week of a resolution demanding Syria's full cooperation with the continuing investigation.

The United States and France both favor the passage of a resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, a provision that traditionally empowers the council to impose sanctions and, in some cases, to use military force, to compel cooperation.

But China, which wields veto power, and other council members argued Monday that it would be premature to consider punishing Damascus before Mehlis concludes his investigation on Dec. 15 and the perpetrators are found guilty.

China's U.N ambassador, Guangya Wang, said that compelling Syria's cooperation through the threat of sanctions is unnecessary because Syria has publicly agreed to cooperate. He also noted that Mehlis has indicated the presumption that key suspects in the assassination are innocent until proved guilty in a court of law.

Wang expressed concern over the U.S. and French preference for adopting their resolution under Chapter 7, saying it raised the threat of sanctions. "I think we have to be very careful with Chapter 7," Wang said. "Chapter 7 is the dog that will bite, not just bark."

Algeria's envoy, Abdallah Baali, the lone Arab diplomat on the council, said it is premature to threaten sanctions against Syria, or to even blame the country's political leaders, before those responsible for Hariri's murder are brought to justice, according to a Security Council ambassador.

John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and senior French officials separately pressed him to support a resolution that would at least require Syria's cooperation with the probe.

Arab and Islamic countries are wary of invoking sanctions, which have been used against Muslim governments, including Libya, Sudan, the former Iraqi government and Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers, over the past 15 years. "That's pretty cold company," the State Department official said.

In an attempt to close the gap with Russia, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked by telephone over the weekend to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a critical player because Moscow is also balking at a tough resolution, U.S. officials said.

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