February 16, 2006

Rice says U.N. must push Syria on Hariri inquiry

By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will push the U.N.
Security Council to give details on Syria's cooperation with a
U.N. inquiry into the killing of Lebanon's former premier,
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday.

Rice told lawmakers she did not think Syria had cooperated
with the U.N. investigation into last February's murder of
Rafik al-Hariri and something must be done.

"We will need, I really do believe, to go back to the
Security Council at some time in the not-too-distant future to
get a report on what is happening with Syrian cooperation,"
Rice told the House of Representatives International Relations

Syria has repeatedly denied a role in the killing of Hariri
in a truck bombing in Beirut. A U.N. inquiry has implicated
senior Syrian officials and their Lebanese allies.

Syria promised full cooperation after a U.N. Security
Council resolution in October demanded it cooperate with the
investigation or face unspecified further action.

Damascus has allowed U.N. investigators to question some
Syrian officials but has turned down a request to talk to
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Last month, Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz took over
the U.N. investigation from Germany's Detlev Mehlis who had led
the probe since June.

Rice said it had taken time for Brammertz to find his feet,
and that those who had met the new investigator described him
as "serious, tough-minded."

"We are going to need to really re-energize that (the
inquiry). And I think once we've given investigator Brammertz a
little time to get up to speed, we'd probably want to go back
to the Security Council," Rice said.

Brammertz, who is due to give the Security Council a report
in March, briefed some Security Council members last week. One
diplomat in New York suggested the inquiry might slow down so
he could see if evidence collected so far could stand up in an
international court.

Brammertz, on leave as deputy prosecutor for The
Hague-based International Criminal Court, is also charged by
the Security Council to look into Lebanon's request for help
with trials.

"It means a change of gear. But in the medium term it might
mean a rougher road ahead for Syria," said the diplomat,
speaking on condition of anonymity.

"For the moment, the Syrians think the pressure is off
them. That might lead them to begin behaving badly again,
testing the limits," he added.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters on
Thursday that Brammertz was putting together his team, with
some who had served under Mehlis and others who were new. He
added, "I don't see anything unusual on this."

(Additional reporting by Evelyn Leopold at the United