The Clock Ticks for Syria
There are two important dates for Syria regarding the UN investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. One is December 15, when the issue is scheduled to be brought before the United Nations Security Council by the Mehlis Commission in accordance with UN Resolution 1636, which demands Syrian cooperation with the Mehlis Commission’s investigation. It is on this date that steps will likely be initiated to impose sanctions on Syria for non-cooperation with the Mehlis investigation team, which has been operating from Lebanon. Section I, Paragraph 13 states:
13. Requests the Commission to report to the Council on the progress of the inquiry by 15 December 2005, including on the cooperation received by the Commission from the Syrian authorities, or anytime before that date if the Commission deems that such cooperation does not meet the requirements of this resolution, so that the Council, if necessary, could consider further action;
This brings us to the issue of the other date. Today. Note the phrase: “…or anytime before that date if the Commission deems that such cooperation does not meet the requirements of this resolution…”
It has been asserted by the Beirut Daily Star and London’s al-Hayat that Mehlis had sent to Syria a deadline of Thursday (November 24), yesterday, for its full cooperation. Now that this date has passed, if such a deadline was in fact relayed to Syria by the commission, it is entirely possible that the UN Security Council could be hearing from Mehlis much sooner than December 15, still 3 weeks away. Al-Hayat reported that Mehlis will be awaiting the Syrian response today.
At issue are key figures in Bashar Assad’s regime who have been implicated in the Mehlis Report on the Hariri murder of February 14, 2005. Mehlis wants to interview them and ask questions. Syria has made repeated public statements that it wants to ‘cooperate fully’, but refuses to allow Mehlis to interview Syrian regime members in Lebanon – where Mehlis has the authority and power to arrest them.
On Thursday, the Mehlis Commission ordered the arrest of the former head of Lebanese military intelligence monitoring services, Ghassan Tufeili. His home was searched and he was held for interrogation for five hours and later released.
Whether Syria fears arrests or not, the UN Security Council Resolution 1636 states that Syria “must cooperate fully with the [Mehlis] Commission”. What has ensued since the release of the Mehlis Commission’s report on the murder of Rafik Hariri and the Security Council’s Resolution 1536 has been a series of attempts to negotiate different locations for the interviews, including Damascus and Switzerland.
Frustrated with Syrian delay, US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said this week that Resolution 1636 does not demand that Syria negotiate or ask for mediators, but cooperate. Stressing that the Security Council has entrusted Mehlis to carry out the investigation as he sees fit, on Wednesday Bolton said, “Syria should stop writing letters and start cooperating with Mr. Mehlis.”
Tensions are indeed high. The next few days could be very telling and fast paced for Syria, the Mehlis Commission, the UN Security Council and Lebanon itself as a critical yet quiet deadline seems to have just lapsed.