The Guardian 9 November, 2005

US threats to Syria blunted at UN

Dan Margolis

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on October 31 demanding that Syria "fully cooperate" with a UN investigation of the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Failure to do so, the measure said, would result in unspecified "further measures".

The passage of the resolution, which was co-sponsored by the US, Britain and France, set off angry protests in Syria and drew criticism from peace and solidarity organisations worldwide.

Security Council Resolution 1636 was adopted in response to an October 20 report by the UN Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIC) that claims to shed light on the February 14 killing of Hariri and 20 others in a massive roadside explosion in Beirut. The "partial" report, made public by UNIIC head Detlev Mehlis, said that there was "converging evidence" implicating Syria in the assassination, and that Syria had stonewalled investigators.

Critics of the report have said the evidence for its claims appears to be thin and its reasoning is overly simplistic. They cautioned against jumping to any conclusions.

The World Federation of Trade Unions, which represents tens of millions of workers in over 80 countries, issued an October 25 statement urging solidarity with Syria. Referring to aggressive actions by the US and its allies around the report, WFTU said it condemns "attempts to disregard the tragic events resulting from the occupation of Iraq, Palestine and other Arab lands as well as the plans to reinforce hegemony by the United States and expand Israeli penetration and their efforts to undermine solidarity with Syria and other Arab countries." It continued, "WFTU considers the report imprecise, not based on facts and lacking professionalism".

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation said, "The unfolding scenario of pressure against Syria is reminiscent down to the smallest details of the plan that was used to pump up tension around Yugoslavia and Iraq. There can be no doubt that the USA and England are attempting to direct the world community along this route, which twice in recent years has led to violence and bloodshed, to the deaths of thousands of people."

In addition to demanding Syria's full cooperation with UNIIC, the resolution also calls on Syria to make available to the Commission or the Lebanese government anyone who is named as a suspect for interrogation. It further says those individuals must be placed under a travel ban and have their assets frozen.

Syria, angered by the resolution, questioned its necessity, saying that it had fully cooperated with the investigation. Days before the resolution, Syrian President Bashar Assad issued an executive decree setting up a national inquiry into what he in agreement with the Security Council referred to as the "terrorist murder" of Hariri. The investigation, according to Assad, would be not separate from, but complementary to the UNIIC probe.

The unanimous 15-0 vote by the Security Council gives a false impression: while the US, France and Britain were quick to push for action, including sanctions, other nations, especially Russia, China and Algeria, were much more cautious.

The initial draft and the final resolution are markedly different in several key areas. The original version included a threat of sanctions, but that threat was removed by the sponsors in order to get the votes of other Security Council members. The new language instead refers to the use of "further measures" should Syria not cooperate.

Li Zhaoxing, China's Minister of Foreign Affairs, said, "The use of sanctions can only be authorised by the Security Council with prudence in light of actual situations." He was alluding to the partial nature of the report and the fact that Syria has not been convicted of any crime.

Along the same lines, the resolution contains no references to Washington's claims that Syria supports terrorist organisations outside of its borders. Nor does it allow UNIIC to unilaterally impose travel bans on individual suspects, as the original resolution read. Instead, such bans must be approved by a special commission of all Security Council member states, operating by consensus.

All parties at the UN, including Syria, agree Hariri's murder was a terrorist act, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice. But the Bush administration's rush to judgment against Syria, and its drive for sanctions, has been momentarily blunted.

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