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Security Council Split Over Resolution on Syria

The emerging reticence presents a challenge to U.S. efforts to use Mehlis's findings to rally the 15-nation council for tough action, and it threatened to undercut the sense of urgency generated Friday by Bush's calls for action.

In an effort to bridge the differences, France urged the United States to avoid an immediate confrontation with Syria's backers over the possibility of sanctions, and to instead begin a gradual diplomatic campaign aimed at uniting the council behind a series of tough measures that could be supported unanimously.

French officials want to start with a cautious resolution that would include an endorsement of Mehlis's report and his ongoing probe, express support for fragile Lebanon's quest for justice and possibly call for officials to be interviewed outside Syria. Another option is to freeze the assets of Syrian officials named in the Mehlis report and impose a travel ban on them, officials said.

"We have here an opportunity to do justice with an independent inquiry," France's Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Monday. "Let's go to the end . . . if we need to make it longer, let's do it, and afterwards let's see what the consequences should be, including on the question . . . of sanctions."

U.S. officials concede that they may have to compromise in negotiations this week, but they continued to press for the inclusion of a stronger threat of punitive action in their resolution to assure Damascus's cooperation.

Rice suggested to reporters en route to Canada on Monday that the United States may be willing to support French calls for a phased approach. "This is all about Syrian behavior, but if people want to sequence it, fine, we can sequence it," she said. The world "must make very clear to the Syrians that this is a really serious matter and that their nonchalant attitude, their efforts to discredit the investigation . . . are not the attitude of the international community," Rice added.

Bolton expressed confidence that the council will adopt a tough resolution in "the next week or so." He said in an interview today that he is meeting individually with key council members to outline Washington's "general thinking" on a U.S.- and French-sponsored resolution that would send an "unmistakable message" to Syria that "they have to cooperate with the Mehlis commission."

"We'll be looking to see how to maintain that pressure during the coming days as we, of course, listen to the Mehlis report tomorrow," Bolton told reporters following a council meeting on Kosovo. "This is true confessions time now for the government of Syria. No more obstruction, no more half measures. We want substantive cooperation, and we want it immediately."


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