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Syria pressed to aid assassination probe

Investigator: U.N. team looking into Hariri death was threatened


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United Nations

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The head of a U.N. investigation team looking into the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister has urged that Syria show "meaningful cooperation" with the ongoing probe.

German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, speaking Tuesday before the U.N. Security Council, pointed out that the report his team released last week implicating Syria in the death in February of Rafik Hariri is only preliminary. Mehlis said that investigators will "look into emerging leads" before the investigation ends on December 15.

"I do not think that the whole investigation will be complete by the 15th of December, but ... we feel that the Lebanese authorities by then will be in a very good position to pursue the investigation, if necessary," Mehlis said at a news conference later in the day.

He told the council that the next seven weeks will "provide yet another opportunity for the Syrian authorities to show greater and meaningful cooperation and to provide any relevant, substantial evidence on the assassination."

Mehlis said that Syria might want to carry out a separate investigation into Hariri's assassination.

"This would enable the commission to fill in the gaps and to have a clearer picture about the organizers and perpetrators of the 14th of February terrorist attack," he said.

Hariri was killed in Beirut that day when a bomb was detonated near his motorcade.

Mehlis' report to the United Nations concluded there was "converging evidence" of Lebanese and Syrian involvement in Hariri's assassination. (Full story)

Syrian officials deny any involvement in the killing and have said the report is false and politically motivated.

Lebanese Foreign Ministry official Boutros Asaker praised the report at Tuesday's session

But Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Fayssal Mekdad, said, "Every paragraph in this report deserves comment to refute it."

Mehlis told the Security Council his 30-member team had received numerous "credible" threats during the past 130 days as it investigated the assassination.

"Despite all precautionary measures the level of risk, which was already high, will increase further, particularly after the issuance of the report," he said.

After Tuesday's open session, the council continued the discussion behind closed doors.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to meet on October 31 to discuss what should be done to press Syria to cooperate with the investigation.

The United States, France and other council members are pushing a tough resolution insisting Syria cooperate.

U.S. backs 'strong message'

U.S. officials say privately that the United States has not ruled out pushing for sanctions against Syria.

On Monday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said "the Syrian government needs to focus on cooperation" with the resolution that led to the Mehlis investigation.

"Let's see how the diplomacy unfolds over the coming week or so and what action at the ministerial level the ministers decide to take," he said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated Tuesday that Syria should not dismiss the Mehlis report

Speaking at a joint news conference with Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew, she said both the United States and Canada support "sending a strong message to Syria" to take the report seriously.

"No one will tolerate efforts at or means of intimidation of the Lebanese people in response to this report," Rice said. "This is a serious matter for the international community when you have these kinds of charges."

Syria's ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, on Tuesday contested charges that Syrian officials were not cooperating with U.N. investigators, saying it was in Syria's interest to reveal the truth.

"We challenged today investigator Mehlis to tell us if he has ever complained to us or hinted to us about any dissatisfaction with serious cooperation on this report," he told CNN. "The first time we ever heard about our non-cooperation was when we read this report."

The killing of Hariri prompted widespread demonstrations in Lebanon and an international outcry for Syria to fully comply with a U.N. resolution demanding that it withdraw all its troops and intelligence assets, which had been in Lebanon since the mid-1970s.

Syria's announced its withdrawal from the country in April.

Hariri served as Lebanon's prime minister five times, and political sources close to the former leader said he was planning to stage a political by publicly supporting the growing opposition to Syria's role in Lebanon.

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