Daily Star - Assad Slams UN's Report on Hariri Assassination, March 31, 2005
By Adnan El-Ghoul
Syrian President Bashar Assad has slammed the UN's fact-finding mission into the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri and denied its central accusation that he threatened Hariri with physical harm. Assad said: "It is a report of political character when I was expecting rather a report of a technical-criminal nature." "Right until the end Syria had excellent relations with Mr. Hariri. We had worked with him since the 1990s," Assad told Austrian weekly News.
The UN report said Syria bore "primary responsibility" for the political tension that preceded the assassination and accused Assad of warning Hariri that he "would rather break Lebanon over the heads of Hariri and the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt than see his word in Lebanon broken." In a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa demanded the deletion of Assad's alleged threat to Hariri from the report. Sharaa said that the claim of an "alleged improper dialogue" between Assad and Hariri was "very strange" and should be removed. Sharaa added: "This reference will never be accepted because it is untrue and lacks any material evidence. It should be removed to help preserve the credibility of the United Nations." The UN Security Council has postponed a discussion on whether it should establish a wide-reaching investigation into Hariri's murder until later today. It is understood that a joint draft declaration, sponsored by France and the United States, will insist that any investigation must have the power to call any witnesses it sees fit without any interference from Lebanese authorities. The UN report said an international investigation could not be satisfactorily carried while Lebanon's security chiefs, who are all close to Syria, remain in power. But since the report was published, military intelligence chief, General Raymond Azar, has taken a month's leave of absence. Lebanon agreed to a UN-led probe in the wake of the report, a move which Damascus said it supported. Lebanon has asked France to provide a copy of the proposed draft but the French diplomats said the draft was still subject to alterations and amendment. Judge Elias Eid, who replaced Michel Abu Arraj in leading the inquiry into Hariri's killing, asked for a detailed copy of the UN report to add its own findings. Sources say France intends to propose a neutral investigation committee in conformity with the aspiration of Lebanese official as explained in their letter to the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. In this letter, Lebanon accepted the international investigation on condition that it be neutral and in coordination with the Lebanese authorities. In order to accommodate Lebanon's considerations, France may suggest that only Annan should select the members of the investigation committee from neutral countries. In all accounts, the diplomatic sources do not expect a criminal panel with an international court, but rather an inquiry team with powers to summon any suspects based on the team's findings.