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U.N. draft demands Syrian cooperation

Bolton: Send Syria a 'strong signal' on assassination probe

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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- A draft U.S.-French resolution being circulated Tuesday among the U.N. Security Council says Syria "must detain" Syrian officials or individuals suspected of involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The resolution also calls for freezing the assets of and placing a travel ban on any individual named as a suspect in a U.N. investigation.

The draft also says Damascus must allow investigators to interview Syrian officials and individuals outside of Syria "and/or outside the presence of any other Syrian official."

"Syria must stop interfering in Lebanese domestic affairs, either directly or indirectly, refrain from any attempt aimed at destabilizing Lebanon, and respect scrupulously the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence of this country," the draft says.

The draft threatens sanctions if Syria does not cooperate.

It also says that if it is determined that Syrian officials are involved "in this terrorist act," it would "constitute a serious violation by Syria of its obligations" to refrain from getting involved in state-sponsored terrorism.

U.S. President George W. Bush told Al Arabiya television Tuesday that he had instructed U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to "call upon the United Nations to host a foreign ministers meeting as quickly as possible."

He said Syria must stop "meddling" in Lebanon, and that Damascus "must take the demands of the free world very seriously."

Asked if the United States and other countries were headed toward confrontation with Syria, Bush said, "I certainly hope not."

Al-Assad calls Putin

Meanwhile, according to a report by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad called Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday and stressed that the U.N. report "should not be used by some U.N. Security Council members for purposes that wouldn't serve the target for which the international committee was formed."

Putin said the international organization's works should "be well-balanced without the rise of new tension points in the region," according to SANA.

The draft resolution comes just days after the release of a preliminary report by Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor appointed by the United Nations to investigate Hariri's death, concluded there was "converging evidence" that Syrian and Lebanese officials were involved. (Full story)

That conclusion was strongly denied by the Syrian government, which has dismissed the report as false and politically motivated.

Speaking to reporters after the Security Council discussed preliminary results of the investigation the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said the goal was to have the resolution considered by the council on Monday.

"We want a very strong signal from the council to the government of Syria that its obstructionism has to cease, and cease immediately," Bolton said. "And we want substantive cooperation in the investigation from Syria.

"We want witnesses made available. We want documents produced. We want real cooperation, not simply the appearance of cooperation," he said.

'Fill in the gaps'

Hariri, a veteran Lebanese politician who had become a critic of Syria's military occupation of Lebanon, was killed in February by a car bomb that also killed 20 other people.

His assassination triggered massive protests that eventually led to Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon.

On Tuesday, Mehlis briefed the Security Council about the investigation. He said investigators would continue to "look into emerging leads" until December 15, when the probe was scheduled to end.

The next seven weeks would "provide yet another opportunity for the Syrian authorities to show greater and meaningful cooperation and to provide any relevant, substantial evidence on the assassination," he said.

Speaking later at a news conference, Mehlis said that while the entire investigation would not be completed by December 15, "We feel that the Lebanese authorities by then will be in a very good position to pursue the investigation, if necessary."

He also said Syria might want to carry out its own investigation into Hariri's death.

"This would enable the commission to fill in the gaps and to have a clearer picture about the organizers and perpetrators," Mehlis said.

Mehlis also told the Security Council that his 30-member investigative team had received numerous "credible" threats.

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

Syria takes issue

Syria's U.N. ambassador, Fayssal Mekdad, disputed Mehlis' findings, telling the Security Council that "every paragraph in this report deserves comment to refute it."

In contrast, Boutros Asaker, a Lebanese foreign ministry official, praised the report.

In an interview with CNN, Syria's ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, took issue with the charge that Syria was not cooperating in the investigation, saying Syrian officials had challenged Mehlis "to tell us if he has ever complained to us, or hinted to us, about any dissatisfaction."

"The first time we ever heard about our non-cooperation was when we read this report," Moustapha said.

State Secretary 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 supported "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."

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