December 21, 2005

Britain offers Syria conditional dialogue

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair said
on Wednesday he was prepared to have a dialogue with Syria but
only if Damascus cooperates with the United Nations on an
investigation into the killing of a former Lebanese leader.

He urged Syria to end "interference" in Lebanon and
demanded it stop insurgents crossing the border into Iraq.

But he stopped short of threatening sanctions if Syria
fails to give full cooperation to the U.N. murder inquiry.

Syria is in a standoff with the United Nations over an
investigation into the February 14 truck bombing that killed
former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 22 others in

The U.N. Security Council earlier this month called on
Syria to cooperate fully with an extended murder probe.

"I am very happy to have a dialogue with the Syrian
government but it has to be on very, very clear terms and it's
important they are not only saying these things (on
cooperation) but that they are doing them," Blair told

"The fact is there can be no justification for interfering
in Lebanon and the Mehlis (U.N.) report was not good reading
for Syria, you have to accept that," he said.

Damascus denies it was involved in the bombing and has
dismissed as politically motivated the findings of the U.N.
report by investigator Detlev Mehlis which implicated Syria.

Blair said it was important for the world to ascertain the
full facts about Hariri's assassination.

"It's a very, very serious situation for Syria," said

Hariri's killing sparked an international outcry that
forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in April.

Blair also said foreign troops in Iraq, including British
soldiers, were at risk from insurgent attacks and said Syria
should play its part in trying to rein in militants.

"It is important that Syria fulfils its obligations to stop
these people from crossing the border. The evidence on that is
at best patchy," he added.