The United States and France are planning to introduce two U.N. resolutions next week aimed at holding Syria to account for meddling in Lebanon and for its alleged links to the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, according to several sources close to the diplomacy.
The moves would be the toughest international action ever taken against Syria and would be designed to further isolate President Bashar Assad, who for the first time is getting the cold shoulder from key Arab governments such as those in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Western envoys said.
The impending actions will be "the perfect storm for Damascus," said a Western diplomat at the United Nations, speaking on the condition of anonymity because planning is still underway. "It's pretty clear the Syrians don't have any friends left."
The resolutions may be introduced as early as Tuesday, he said. They would follow two reports on Syria expected to be submitted over the next two days to the U.N. Security Council.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan discussed the reports and plans for new resolutions during a working breakfast in New York, said sources familiar with the talks. Rice has been engaged in diplomacy on Syria over the past week during travels to France, Russia and Britain.
Rice requested the meeting, which was not announced until it was over. "The region and the world have a number of issues with Syrian behavior," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, adding that the Lebanese, Iraqi and Palestinian governments have all protested Syrian practices.
The most crucial report expected to be delivered this week is from German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, who will submit results of his U.N. investigation into the assassination of Hariri, who was Lebanon's leading reformer. Although the details of the report have been closely held, diplomats said they expect it to implicate Syria in the slaying of Hariri and 19 others in a Feb. 14 bombing, and to say that Syria has not fully complied with the investigation.
The U.N. envoy for Lebanon, Terje Roed-Larsen, is also scheduled to deliver a status report on Resolution 1559, which was co-sponsored by the United States and France last year. It calls for Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon and for the dismantling of militias. This report is expected to say that Syria has facilitated the flow of illicit arms and individuals into Palestinian camps in Lebanon, further undermining Lebanon's stability.
Syria says it has complied with the United Nations by ending its 29-year occupation and withdrawing about 14,000 troops from Lebanon in April. It also denies any links to the Hariri bombing.
"We have supported the Mehlis mission, and we have been cooperating with Mehlis," Imad Moustapha, Syria's ambassador to the United States, said yesterday. "We are absolutely categoric in saying we had nothing to do with Hariri. . . . If he does not reveal the truth, then this will allow certain people to point fingers here and there without any shred of evidence.
"President Assad has said that if any Syrian individual has been party to this crime or implicated in the assassination of Hariri, then he has committed a treasonous crime."
But key Security Council members have discussed extending the Mehlis mission until Dec. 15, which the U.N. chief can do without going to the Security Council. An extension could be used to continue probing or to provide a psychological boost for Lebanese authorities in persevering in the prosecution of Hariri's slaying, which unleashed the Cedar Revolution.
The scope of any punitive action against Syria is also under discussion, diplomats said. The Bush administration has considered language critical of Syria for support of terrorism that could also be used to punish or pressure Damascus for aiding extremists in Iraq, envoys familiar with the diplomacy said.
But France and other nations want the focus to be limited to Syria's intervention in Lebanon, mainly to prevent Arab backlash at a time of public anger over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Of particular concern is the position of Algeria, whose socialist government has been close to Damascus in the past. Also, Algeria is now the Arab representative on the 15-member Security Council.
But U.S., European and U.N. officials say Assad's government is facing bleak prospects even in the Arab world. Last month, Assad visited Cairo to win support from Egypt, a political trendsetter that accounts for more than half the Arab population. Instead, U.S. and Arab envoys say, President Hosni Mubarak told him to comply fully with Mehlis -- and not to expect help if Syrian officials are implicated.
After their first summit, held in Paris yesterday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora issued a statement condemning the movement of arms and militants into the Palestinian refugee camps. At a joint news conference, Siniora said he and Abbas are specifically concerned about Syria's role.