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November 1, 2005
UN Demands Syrian Cooperation, Syria Refuses

Yesterday, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a watered-down resolution demanding full cooperation from Syria and its dictator, Bashar Assad, in the investigation into the assassination of Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri. The resolution gained Russian and Chinese support only when the sponsoring nations of the US, UK, and France removed the specific threat of economic sanctions:

The Security Council voted unanimously on Monday to compel Syria to stop obstructing a United Nations investigation into the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri or face unspecified "further action."

The 15-to-0 vote was a diplomatic shunning of Syria, which has found itself increasingly isolated since the publication 10 days ago of an initial report by the chief United Nations investigator in the case that identified high-ranking Syrian officials as suspects in the assassination. Among the votes was that of Algeria, the Arab representative on the Council.

While the resolution that was approved did not include a threat of specific economic sanctions, as some earlier drafts did, it keeps such options on the table because it was adopted under a provision that gives the United Nations broad powers to punish noncompliance.

The measure orders Syria to cooperate "fully and unconditionally" with the inquiry and to give complete access to places, documents and people that investigators ask for - a caveat that diplomats said included President Bashar al-Assad, who has refused to be interviewed. The measure further orders Syria not to meddle in Lebanon's domestic politics, and it calls for international travel bans and asset freezes on suspects the investigation refers to a Security Council panel.

The weakened resolution lost some of its power when the two veto-holding nations demanded the last-minute edit. The true power of the resolution came from the threat of economic isolation, which would spell an end to the two-generation rule of the Assad family over the last 40 years. While the new resolution specifies that other actions will be taken if Syria refuses, the failure of Russia and China to support a sanctions regime at even the threat stage doesn't bode well for any concrete action coming from the UN.

The Syrians did not lose this point, either. In fact, after acting rather strangely in the UNSC debate by accusing the three sponsoring nations of foreknowledge of al-Qaeda attacks, they have rejected the resolution completely this morning:

Syria has angrily rejected a U.N. Security Council resolution that demands Damascus cooperate fully in the investigation into the killing of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik Hariri or face "further measures." ...

Syria's Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa said the U.N. report convicted Syria before it faced trial, and he wondered why the United Nations had assumed its forces were guilty just because they were in Lebanon at the time of the bombing.

Since the Syrians supposedly had their forces in Lebanon to "stabilize" their neighbor, then one would at least assume that the carbombing assassination represented a massive failure on the part of the Syrians to deliver on that promise. However, the preliminary report of the murder shows plenty of evidence and testimony that they did more than just show up when the bomb went off, and that evidence comes from a UN investigation that still hasn't gotten any cooperation from Syria. Their stonewalling has not had the effect they want of killing the inquiry. If the initial report doesn't "convict" Syria as its foreign minister claims, its refusal to cooperate fully with further investigation shows that Syria has much to hide about Hariri's assassination, and that the Assad regime in particular has significant involvement.

The UNSC must enforce this resolution immediately. If the Russians and the Chinese veto any meaningful consequences for Syria's intransigence, then they will not mind if later we just skip the entire UNSC pas de deux when it comes to Iran. If the two expect us to consult them on issues like this in the future, they'd better start coming up with better answers than they have for the past three years on the UNSC. In the meantime, the sponsoring nations can put a big dent in the Syrian economy, perhaps big enough to push Bashar Assad out of Syria altogether.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 1, 2005 5:48 AM

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