November 9, 2005

Syria invites UN investigator for Hariri talks

By Inal Ersan

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syria has invited a United Nations
investigator to Damascus to discuss cooperation with a probe
into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik
al-Hariri, the state news agency SANA said on Wednesday.

Syria last month dismissed a U.N. report implicating its
officials in the bombing that killed Hariri, saying it was
politically motivated. A Security Council resolution demanded
it cooperate fully with the probe or face unspecified action.

"As we hope that you would agree on the visit ... we
propose in this regard the signing of a memorandum of
understanding with your committee to achieve the desired
cooperation," Ghada Murad, head of a Syrian panel set up in
October to investigate the killing, said in a letter to U.N.
investigator Detlev Mehlis.

Murad, also Syria's general prosecutor, told Mehlis her
committee was ready "for full cooperation and coordination with
you to find the truth that we all seek," and that she wanted to
discuss the best ways for cooperation between the two teams.

SANA said the letter was sent to Mehlis on Tuesday. There
was no immediate comment from the Lebanon-based U.N. inquiry.

The letter did not directly refer to a request by Mehlis to
question six Syrian officials in Lebanon. A Lebanese source has
said the six include Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's
brother-in-law, Major General Asef Shawkat.

Shawkat, head of the powerful military intelligence who is
married to Assad's sister Bushra, was among 10 Syrian officials
interviewed in Damascus by the U.N. team in September. His name
appeared in Mehlis's report to the Security Council last month.

Syria has denied any involvement in Hariri's death.

Assad will address the nation in a televised speech on
Thursday, in which he will declare his desire to work with the
U.N. probe and push ahead with political reforms.

But Assad is not expected to respond explicitly to Mehlis's
demand to question the six officers, Baath Party members said.


Earlier on Wednesday, Arab League Secretary-General Amr
Moussa said after meeting Assad and Foreign Minister Farouq
al-Shara that he was optimistic about Syria's cooperation with
the U.N. investigators.

"Both in terms of coordination and cooperation, I am
optimistic," he told reporters.

In Beirut, a Lebanese political source said Damascus
appeared willing to cooperate with Mehlis but was seeking an
understanding on details of the questioning of Syrian officers.

"Though they are keen to show that they are cooperating,
the Syrians want to clarify some points before responding to
Mehlis's request," the source said.

He said Damascus was not comfortable with the questioning
taking place in Lebanon, where four pro-Syrian Lebanese
generals are already under arrest and charged in the

"They (Syrians) want to know whether the six will be
questioned as suspects or witnesses, and under what law and
whose jurisdiction would any of them be held and charged if
Mehlis decided to do so."

Murad's committee has said it questioned a number of
witnesses but did not say if they included the six officials
Mehlis wants to question.